The Preah Sihanouk provincial authorities detained a group for allegedly encroaching on state land in Chamnot Ream village of Prey Nop district’s Bit Traing commune and dismantled the 18 huts they had built there.

A June 12 announcement by the provincial administration said authorities were working closely with the deputy prosecutor of the provincial court.

The administration described how park rangers had earlier warned the occupiers of the land – located in the multi-purposed area of Prek Teuk Sap, Kbal Chhay – to remove their structures and leave the area. Their orders, however, were ignored, with even more huts built there.

It was only once law enforcement officers, accompanied by the deputy prosecutor, explained the illegality of their actions that the group relented and signed contracts promising to vacate the area peacefully.

The provincial administration transported the encroachers and their building materials from the site and were holding them, pending legal action.

It described how the occupation appeared to be opportunistic, as the authorities are currently focused on providing security and protecting public order ahead of the upcoming 7th parliamentary election.

It also warned of legal consequences for the ringleaders of the encroachment.

“The provincial administration will pursue strict legal action without exception against the masterminds of any anarchic group who seek to encroach on state land,” it said.

According to articles 62 and 56 of the Law on Protected Areas, the act of encroaching on forest land is punishable by five to 10 years in prison and a fine of 15 million to 150 million riel ($3,650 to $36,500). For recidivist offences, the penalties are doubled.

Bit Traing commune chief Meach Chan said on June 13 that the people who built the huts came not just from Preah Sihanouk but also from Battambang, Svay Rieng and Prey Veng provinces. They cleared about 2ha of acacia forest.

Separately, the Kandal Provincial Administration also issued a reminder to each of its institutions and departments to stay focused on the suppression of crimes in the province, including intrusions onto state land.

“All forces must strengthen the protection of social order by implementing the ‘Safe Village-Commune’ policy in their jurisdictions and cracking down on all crimes – especially drug and natural resource crimes,” said governor Kong Sophorn, as he addressed a June 12 sub-committee meeting aimed at suppressing forest crimes.