The Pursat Provincial Administration has ordered five commune chiefs in Veal Veng district to annul land titles in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary.
Provincial environment department director Pan Morakat said on November 19 the communes include Krapoeu Pi, Pramuoy, O’Som, Anlong Reap, and Thma Da.
Each was advised the land tenures are null and void.
Only two communes – Anlong Reap and Thma Da – have responded so far.
Morakat said land encroachment is a problem in the area.
“We advised them to release refusal letters, but there is the issue of land purchase agreements from one person to another and from other merchants,” he said.
According to Morakat, besides writing letters to warn against land encroachment, the province also released a letter to ban illegal selling and buying of land.
“This happens in many areas around these five communes. It is speechless.
“Illegal land encroachment affects may conservation areas. Now we are trying to allocate land for citizens following the order of Prime Minister Hun Sen. We don’t know the total amount of land people have encroached on. We, therefore, refuse the titles,” Morakat said.
Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary director Phan Sophearin said the five commune chiefs allowed the buying and selling of land in a protected area. The people took the letters to mean an acknowledgement of ownership from village and commune authorities.
“I don’t know the reason why they signed letters on land ownership. Commune chiefs are actually not allowed to sign off on state land ownership. When I went to inform them of land encroachment they asked why one office acknowledges a title and the other does not.
“They are local people, but most are people from other provinces, especially rich people who want to occupy land legally,” he said.
Anlong Reap commune chief Oum Seng said people have been living there for many years. Now, the administration tells people not to occupy the land because they want it to be a tourism area.
“If people protest, they have to go to the provincial administration. This morning, Pursat provincial governor Mao Thonin came to meet people in Pramuoy commune to tackle the land issue, but I did not join,” he said.
Thonin declined to comment.
Rights group Licadho coordinator Mith Samoun said she did not have enough information about the order from the provincial administration to the commune chiefs. She said there used to be many arrests over state land encroachment.