Land encroachments in the Central Cardamom National Park number in the hundreds and have overwhelmed local authorities trying to prevent forest crimes, prompting the Pursat Provincial Administration to submit a report to the government requesting assistance.

Provincial deputy governor Khoy Rida told The Post on June 16 that according to actual sightings, people who occupied forest land seized from 3ha to 5ha per family and in some cases 6ha to 7ha. Some perpetrators cut down trees in the nearby mountains to sell.

“Their plan is to sell the trees and not use the land for agriculture. If cultivation was the aim then there is enough land for farming. But, if the goal is to grow crops then they will find a buyer to purchase the land and move elsewhere,” he said.

“Authorities do not harm people. We clearly separate the perpetrators from others in a principled way. We are investigating the perpetrators who have fled and will prosecute them when they are caught,” he said.

The deputy governor said that sub-national authorities work continuously to instruct and guide people to be aware and participate in the protection of the park. Provincial authorities have also taken back forest land as well as planted trees on the mountains to restore the area.

According to Rida, the team on June 16 revisited the encroachment area and divided into two groups. One group went to instruct each household not to encroach on land and the other group went to confiscate state land that people had illegally occupied. But, he said provincial authorities needed assistance.

“It is beyond the capacity of sub-national authorities. We have to report to the national level for their consideration, recommendation or do something further,” he said.

Sam Chankea, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said on June 16 that authorities were correct. If the encroachers are more powerful than local authorities, provincial authorities should send a report to the national level and disclose the problem.

“If the Pursat provincial authorities ask for intervention, I believe that the national authorities will take preventative action,” he said.

Chankea called for an investigation into those behind forest crimes and arrest them for prosecution. Otherwise, only the people who are hired to cut down trees would be caught and such arrests will not end.

“Not until the people paying others to commit the crime or corrupt officials who facilitate forest land clearing are identified and punished can we prevent further crimes,” he said.