Kampong Speu provincial police and NGO ACNCIPO director Chea Hean stopped nearly 100 people from grabbing more than 200ha illegally in the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary on Wednesday.
The incident occurred at the Trapaing Thmea village in Oral district.
Hean said on Wednesday the people intended to claim the area for private ownership and prepared to build sheds and clear forest land to grow crops. Authorities intervened and the 100 or so families protested.
He said they eventually listened to instructions and returned to their respective homes.
“We explained to them that we stop all forms of forest land encroachment. If any person clears State land, we will cooperate with the police to build a case,” he said.
Trapaing Thmea villager Hong Vuthy, 35, said on Wednesday that villagers had occupied the land and relied on it for their livelihoods since 2012. But they had no titles or recognition from local authorities. However, he agreed to leave the land.
He urged the authorities to act against powerful individuals because he doesn’t want to see biased actions against the people.
Vuthy said he received information that the authorities had cracked down on ordinary people, but allowed powerful and wealthy individuals to occupy State land illegally.
“We agree not to occupy the land anymore, but we request the authorities to investigate with transparency and justice because I am afraid we will be evicted only to have the land given to others.
“I am a poor citizen. We plan to write letters asking the authorities for land in the area for our families’ livelihoods,” he said.
Trasal commune chief Dul Sokhom said 100 families had gathered to grab the State land. Even though the authorities had repeatedly warned them, they did not listen and illegally built huts.
He said five of the families asked him last week to sign documents recognising the grabbed land, but he refused and told them to stop because the land is protected by a royal decree.
“The villagers saw a lot of empty land, so they gathered to grab it, but we cannot meet such demands,” he said, adding that some villagers already had land granted to them by the authorities, but they sold it and tried to get new land.
A notice released by the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary office on August 14 and seen by The Post on Wednesday said the encroachment is against the law as stipulated under Article 62 of the Law on Natural Protected Areas, which was promulgated by a royal decree dated February 15, 2008.
The notice said any persons who violated the article would be punished as committing grade-4 natural resources offences, which carry a prison sentence of five to 10 years and a fine of up to 150 million riel ($36,700). Evidence will be seized as State property.