The Preah Sihanouk provincial authority has taken tougher measures against land grabbing and encroachment on mangrove and flooded forests at the protected Prek Kampong Smach sanctuary in Prey Nub district.
In a directive released on Monday, provincial governor Yun Min said the encroachment severely affected marine ecology. He said the authority would not recognise any documentation concerning land ownership in the area.
“All land grabbers must immediately stop their illegal activities, voluntarily dismantle all kinds of construction and unconditionally return the land to the state,” said the directive.
The governor also ordered local authorities to immediately cease certifying documentation concerning the sale and transfer of land ownership in the area.
Provincial hall spokesperson Or Saroeun said the directive followed repeated encroachments on mangrove and flooded forests in the area for private ownership.
“The grabbing takes place not just in the sanctuary mentioned in the directive, but also in other protected areas. It happens because of rising land prices,” he said, adding that the authority will take legal action against the offenders.
Sun Sophat, a communal land representative in the province, welcomed the directive but he said the authority had not taken tough actions against powerful land-grabbers.
“This is a good measure but I doubt they can effectively enforce it. Mostly, only the rich and powerful can encroach on state-owned protected areas like mangrove and flooded forests. Ordinary people would not dare to grab state land."
“Generally, law enforcement by the authority has not been transparent enough and it’s biased. Poor villagers settle in the flooded forest because they have no land. Their settlement does not affect the forest but the authority is to act against them.
“For the rich and powerful, they could [illegally] turn the forest into shrimp farms or fill in public beaches and get away with it. The authority takes no action against them,” he claimed.
Hang Chenda, a villager from Mittapheap district’s Commune 3, echoed Sophat’s views. She said the authority’s directives have fallen on deaf ears.
“The authority’s measures are not effective because most offenders are high-ranking officials. I want the relevant authorities to enforce the law independently and equally. If they forgive the powerful and punish only the poor, then it’s not just,” she said.