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Officials told to testify over Tonle Sap wetland clearing

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Banteay Meanchey authorities plant trees on Tonle Sap wetlands in Mongkol Borei district on February 6. BANTEAY MEANCHEY ADMINISTRATION

Officials told to testify over Tonle Sap wetland clearing

The Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court has summoned the Preah Netr Preah district governor and Prasat commune chief to testify next month in cases concerning the clearing of three forest areas near the Tonle Sap Lake.

According to two separate letters from prosecutor Keut Vannareth dated February 9, Prasat commune chief Meas Heuk has been summoned to appear on March 3, and Preah Netr Preah district governor Khou Pov on March 21.

The letters stated that the summons were issued for purposes of “enquiring about the people involed in the clearing and encroachment of flooded areas in Zone 3 of the Tonle Sap Lake in Prasat and Phnom Leap communes of Preah Netr Preah district.”

When contacted on February 13, Pov declined to comment, saying he was “busy”, while Huek could not be reached.

Provincial prosecutor’s office spokesperson Samrith Sokhon told The Post on February 13 that the summons was just to seek further information from the two officials about those involved in the encroachment into Zone 3. He stressed that both of them have not been found to be involved in the criminal activity so far.

Sokhon said that after having received the case from the Forestry Administration, the court has summoned a number of stakeholders and was now looking for persons of interest.

“We called [Pov and Huek], as the authorities, to ask who was involved. This case has a lot of stakeholders, while we are not yet certain about the total land area encompassed,” he said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen issued an order on November 28 to relevant ministries and institutions and provincial governors adjacent to the lake to prevent and combat illegal logging and flooding in the lake.

The order was issued soon after the Royal Academy of Cambodia investigated and found large-scale encroachment on forest land around the lake, which was deemed to require immediate attention.

With the latest clearing and encroachment in Banteay Meanchey province, illegal deforestation has now affected over 12,000ha in Preah Netr Preah and Mongkol Borei districts.

Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, urged the court to exercise impartiality and treat all accused equally, whether they were ordinary citizens or officials.

“We are equal before the law, so even if the district or commune chiefs commit any crime, they must be held accountable.

“If, in this case, we see that documents were signed by the authorities to legalise the sale of state land, that is [an] offence because they already knew those land is protected,” he said.

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