Military Police personnel, in cooperation with environmental rangers in Kampong Speu province, have cracked down on natural resource crimes and illegal encroachment of state land in Oral district’s Ta Sal commune. They seized 15 chainsaws, removed eight tents, and destroyed 19 coal ovens, according to the provincial Military Police report released on December 13.
While patrolling the Sorya village area on December 12, authorities also briefly detained 23 villagers who were hired to clear forest and illegally occupy land in Ta Sal commune’s Sorya village. They were made to sign a letter promising to stop their activities before being allowed to return home.
Citing questioning, officials said the 23 people were from Kampot province and had been hired by traders to clear forest in Kampong Speu.
Kampong Speu provincial governor Vei Samnang told The Post on December 13 that his officials were expanding their investigation in order to identify the ringleaders. He said the ringleaders are traders who have set up a network that incites poor people from various provinces to encroach on the land in exchange for cash payments and plots of land.
“In the past, we have arrested some ringleaders. But in the case of traders hiring people like this, the traders are very good at hiding, so we need to expand the investigation further,” he said.
Samnang said encroachment on state forest land is an offense punishable by a prison term of up to 10 years.
“I would like to remind people that the statute of limitations for forestry crimes is lengthy, it’s a long period, so please do not commit these crimes. Today I have not been able to arrest the perpetrators, but even if it is 10 years from now, when I find them I can still arrest them,” he said.
Separately in Pursat province on December 10, provincial authorities also cracked down on state land encroachment in Veal Veng district’s O’Som commune. They reclaimed 100ha of illegally occupied land that was under cultivation, along with another 164ha that was in the process of being cleared.
Kith Sopha, a spokesman for the Pursat Provincial Administration, declined to comment on December 13, saying no official report had been filed.
National Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organisation (NRWPO) director Chea Hean observed that a cycle where people were illegally clearing state land and later requesting legal possession of it for the ringleaders seemed to be happening over and over again.
“They [villagers] are hired to clear state forest land and occupy the land for the traders who will eventually take possession of the land. Each of them receives about $500 to $1,000 for this illegal activity,” he said.
Hean said he is currently cooperating with provincial environment officials to investigate cases where local authorities in some villages and communes have signed land certificates enabling residents to encroach on state forest land.