Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday ordered the annulment of all land purchases within the Cardamom Mountains in Pursat province due to gross illegal land-grabbing practices taking place.
“High-ranking government officials and the rich have come into [this village] and used the villagers to clear all the land and these people stand behind the villagers and take all the land – as much as 20 to 30 hectares at a time,” Hun Sen said.
“Today, I order the cancellation of all the land that was signed over as property by the commune chief, local land management, district and provincial governor.”
The commune in question is O’Som, in Veal Veng district, bordering Koh Kong.
Any commune chief, district chief or provincial governor, including those at the provincial land management who signed over illegal land grants to high-ranking military officials and rich people, must be stopped, the premier said.
Hun Sen also warned that any high-ranking military officials found to be involved in land grabbing should prepare to face serious consequences.
“Be cautious, if I know who you are, your star [military ranking] will fall down,” he said.
Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony for Atai’s hydropower construction in Veal Veng district, Hun Sen also issued a blanket declaration to protect any villagers from being affected by his verbal decree. “This game of land grabbing continues and has never been stopped,” he said.
He appealed to all armed forces to cooperate with the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Agriculture to curb rampant illegal land grabbing and illegal wildlife hunting in protected areas across the country.
Pursat provincial governor Khoy Sokha said local authorities would cooperate with legal experts to trace the ownership of the illegally grabbed land by as early as next year.
“People are onselling the land over and over again, therefore I am not sure how much land is illegally owned by people,” Khoy Sokha said. “The local authorities will establish a legal working group to examine the legitimacy of land documents before we implement the cancellation.”
However, despite the premier’s decree, Conservation International country director Seng Bunra told the Post land grabbing was not an issue in O’Som commune. “In O’Som, it is only indigenous people who use the protected land to cultivate their crops,” Seng Bunra said, adding that out of all of Pursat province, O’Som commune was the only area CI conducted its government forestry monitoring support program.
CI has said it provided supportive funding to the Forestry Administration for ongoing monitoring of the Central Cardamom Protected Forest.
Eng Chhun Han, Licadho’s Pursat provincial coordinator, said the majority of villagers living in the area were former Khmer Rouge cadre that moved to Veal Veng district after the 1996 integration of the Khmer Rouge back into society. It was these former cadre that now occupied the wildlife conservation area, he said.
“I am not sure, but maybe the government has not yet clearly demarcated the border of the protected forest area because it is a very big size,” he said.