At least 200 out of 500 people who built shacks and cleared land in Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary in Pursat province’s Veal Veng district have agreed to leave after a warning from authorities.
The provincial Department of Environment announced on June 19 that the 500 – who were tricked by alleged conmen into moving onto the land – must dismantle their structures and vacate the protected area immediately. One of the alleged ringleaders was taken into custody on the same day.
The sanctuary covers an area of nearly 3,000ha, and its dense forests are home to a wide range of wildlife.
The announcement was made after local authorities investigated the settlement and identified the four ringleaders who convinced people from other provinces to clear forest, plant, crops and build more than 180 shacks at Stung Khiev point, at the foot of Phnom Khmoch in Chamkar Chrey Khang Tbong village of the district’s Anlong Reap commune.
Sanctuary deputy director Phan Sophearin told The Post on June 19 that in May, the provincial administration had issued a notice informing the migrants to dismantle their shacks and leave, but they had not obeyed.
He claimed that four individual were responsible for establishing the temporary community.
“The actions of these people are illegal. They have cleared protected forest in the sanctuary, which is one of the state’s natural resource protected sites,” he said.
According to Sophearin, a provincial joint force has arrested one of the four ringleaders and referred the case to the court for further action.
“At present, about 200 of people who tricked into moving onto the land have taken down their shacks and moved on,” he added.
He instructed the people who have not yet demolished their shacks to do so and return home immediately, saying they are in breach of the 2001 Land Law and the 2008 Protected Areas Law.
District governor So Sa Hong told The Post that this is not the first time that land has been cleared or occupied in the area. This kind of thing has been going on for years, he said, despite the authorities regularly conducting outreach educational programmes and crackdowns.
“They are hoodlums who do not respect the law or the instructions of the authorities. They should be fined or punished without exception,” he said.
According to Sa Hong, most of the 500 people who cleared the land in Phnom Samkos sanctuary area are from Battambang, Pailin, Banteay Meanchey, Preah Vihear, Kratie or Kampong Cham provinces. There were very few locals involved, he added.