On March 19, the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court issued arrest warrants for six brokers and placed six others under court supervision after they led nearly 300 people to occupy state land in the South Cardamom Mountains National Park in Cham village of Kampong Seila commune and district.

Provincial Department of Environment director Samuth Sothearith told The Post on March 20 that after the provincial authorities busted 295 people, including 113 women, who encroached on the land on March 13, officers from the department filed a case to send 12 suspects to court in connection with invasion of state land.

“After an investigation by the judiciary on March 19, the provincial court issued arrest warrants for six people and placed six others under court supervision,” he said.

According to a March 20 press release issued by the department, the national park– which borders Koh Kong, Preah Sihanouk, Pursat and Kampong Speu provinces – was established by a sub-decree dated May 9, 2016, to ensure environmental protection, biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources.

In the past, illegal activities such as encroachment, deforestation, hut building and illegal occupation of the national park were subjected to a series of preventive measures, according to the press release.

According to articles 56 and 62 of the law on natural protected areas, any individual who engages in logging, encroachment, or burning and clearing of forest land shall be punished for committing a fourth-grade natural resource offence and face imprisonment of between five and 10 years and a fine of up to 150 million riel ($47,200).

Individuals acting as legal entities will be fined from 150 to 250 million riel, and evidence shall be confiscated as state property. In case of recidivism, the punishment shall be doubled.

According to the department, which coordinated with the provincial prosecutor’s office and the district administration, officers had warned the 295 people on March 13.

However, despite the warning, they land remained occupied, leaving the team with no choice but to enforce the law. Twelve suspects were identified as the masterminds and legal action was taken, while four cars, two motorcycles and various tools were confiscated.