After the authorities on Friday and Saturday dismantled 49 of some 1,000 huts which had been built illegally on forest land in Siem Reap’s Phnom Kulen National Park, Banteay Srei district governor Khim Finan said on Sunday that a hunt was on for a group of activists who have been inciting people to commit forest crimes.
He said the huts were demolished because the villagers had failed to obey an ultimatum demanding they remove the illegal structures themselves.
After the huts were demolished, the authorities made a second announcement on Saturday giving the remaining families five more days to remove the structures.
Finan said people had not demolished the huts because they were encouraged by a group of land activists to erect more of them over the Water Festival.
“People saw us removing the huts, now some of them have begun dismantling them by themselves. But some people are still refusing to do so because a group of land activists has told them not to. Now we’re searching for the activists,” Finan said.
After being made aware of the land grab, in Tbeng Lech and Srah Khvav villages in Banteay Srei district’s Tbeng commune, the authorities ordered the people to remove the huts and prohibited any further construction in the area.
“The law is the law. Illegal land grabs must be cracked down on whenever they happen. People gathering to protest will not legitimise illegal acts,” Finan said, adding that legal homes belonging to permanent residents were not affected.
He said the authorities also never leave people homeless and always attempt to find an appropriate solution for them.
Chan Chamroeun, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, confirmed that he was aware the huts had been demolished. He said as of Sunday afternoon, no one had filed a complaint with the organisation.
He acknowledged that the authorities were only following the law, but said they should find people who were genuinely poor somewhere to live.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the land grab was the result of incitement by land brokers who violated the law and destroyed natural resources under the pretext of growing crops. They attempted to make it appear that they had lived on and owned the land for a long time.
He said the ministry was working with relevant authorities to take strict action against offenders to prevent such land grabs.