A senior justice ministry official has been removed from his position after being found to have encroached on protected wildlife sanctuaries in Mondulkiri province’s O’Raing and Koh Nhek districts.
Seng Sovannara, Ministry of Justice under-secretary of state, was dismissed in a Royal Decree issued on Saturday.
His dismissal came after the provincial hall revoked his ownership of 1,754ha in three different locations in two protected wildlife sanctuaries.
Before the Royal Decree, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng on August 13 also terminated Sovannara’s membership in the national-level working group for Mondulkiri province.
Sovannara’s fall from grace followed an investigation which found that he had lied to local authorities in obtaining paperwork to claim the 1,754ha for private ownership. Sovannara’s ownership also led to a protest by the local communities.
Provincial administration officials who asked not to be named told The Post earlier this month that Sovannara’s paperwork was signed and stamped in January by local authorities – from the village chief to the provincial governor.
The officials said Sovannara had used the stamped documentation to claim 292ha in Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in O’Raing district’s Sen Monorom commune and another 990ha in the Sre Pok Wildlife Sanctuary in Koh Nhek district’s Or Buonloeu commune.
Mondulkiri provincial hall spokesman Sok Sera acknowledged to The Post on Sunday that provincial governor Svay Sam Eang had signed the paperwork, but he placed the blame on lower-level authorities who he said had submitted it for Sam Eang’s approval without verifying if the land overlapped with conservation zones.
Sera said the paperwork would have ceded to Sovannara 292ha in Sen Monorom commune’s Pusam village, 472ha in the commune’s Purang village, and another 990ha in Or Buonloeu commune.
“We have so far reclaimed the land and place it under the jurisdiction of relevant authorities,” he said.
Provincial environment department director Keo Sopheak confirmed to The Post on Sunday that the 990ha is located in Koh Nhek district’s Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary, while the 292ha and 472ha in two different locations are both situated in O’Raing district’s Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary.
“The areas have not been cleared, and no boundaries have been installed. Seng Sovannara had only secured land titles,” he said, adding that the case had been referred to the higher authorities for further action.
The Post could not reach Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak for comment on Sunday. But Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin has said Sovannara’s alleged encroachment on the wildlife sanctuaries is an individual case.
Sovannara could not be reached for comment.
Pen Bonna, senior land and natural resource officer for rights group Adhoc, called for a more thorough investigation into the case.
He said all officials who have been implicated in the case, including the provincial governor, should be summoned for clarification. He said privatisation of public land could only be made official through a sub-decree issued by the prime minister.
“If the law is to be enforced, they [officials] must be held accountable. Had villagers not protested, over one thousand hectares of public land would have become private land without a sub-decree.
“Therefore, all officials who had signed on Seng Sovannara’s paperwork must be summoned for clarification and held accountable before the law,” Bonna said.
Mondulkiri Provincial Court deputy prosecutor Morm Vanda told The Post on Sunday that the court had no plan to summon the officials.
“We have not received any complaint and so have not taken any action,” he said.