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Pursat wildlife sanctuary families seek prime minister’s intervention

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The intervention of Prime Minister Hun Sen has been requested by 31 families living in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary in Pursat province after they were ordered to dismantle their properties. Photo supplied

Pursat wildlife sanctuary families seek prime minister’s intervention

The intervention of Prime Minister Hun Sen has been requested by 31 families living in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary in Pursat province. Authorities said while they had settled in the area illegally, meetings were being held to resolve the issue.

“We, the 31 families, came to live and farm in Stung Thmey village, Pramuoy commune, in Veal Veng district, Pursat province in 2000 with recognition from the village and commune authorities.

“We have lived happily on the land, but on November 8 we received a letter from the Pursat Provincial Department of Environment notifying us of measures to clear the illegal settlement located in the protected community in Stung Thmey village in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary.

“This requires us, the 31 families, to remove our houses from this location to another place by the deadline of November 18,” said the letter sent to the prime minister dated November 16 and obtained by The Post on Tuesday.

Chun Chonh, a representative for the 31 families, said they had come to Pramuoy commune from different areas due to being poor and had sought permission from the authorities, who had agreed to allow them to live there temporarily.

He said they were appealing to the authorities and the government to allocate them land from the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary to live on legally.

“We cannot afford to find another place to settle. So please Prime Minister Hun Sen, kindly intervene by allocating land in the area for us to live on and farm.

Pramuoy commune chief Sek Sam Ath said the Pursat provincial Department of Environment had set a deadline of Monday for the 31 families to move off the land in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary.

As they had not done so, she said the provincial authorities were holding meetings to resolve the issue.

Some of the families, all of whom were poor and carried out farming to make a living, came to Pramuoy commune from different areas in 2016, while some arrived in 2018 or this year, she said.

“They have been arriving in the area since 2016. I could not send them away because they were poor and if I did so, they would not be able to buy land elsewhere to live. So we as the authorities reported the matter to our superiors, who also agreed to allow them to live there temporarily.

“We have had no reason to remove them. We are holding meetings to find a solution . . . whether to allow them to continue living there or find another place for them,” she said.

Sam Chankea, Pursat and Kampong Chhnang provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said on Tuesday that he supported talks on the issue to avoid a forced relocation as the families are poor farmers who had no land to live on or work.

“The government should consider providing another place for them if it thinks that their living there would affect the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary.

“If there is no land in another place, the government should allocate land in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, but place conditions on them by banning anything that would affect the forest or wildlife.

“If we can resolve the issue like this, we all benefit because we all are Cambodians,” Chankea said.

However, the notification letter says the provincial Department of Environment will take action after the deadline to remove the families without being responsible for any loss of property or damage.

If the families were to refuse or used violence, they would be punished in accordance with the law.

Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra declined to comment further on the case on Tuesday. But he said: “Let our technical officials do their job in accordance with the legal procedures.”

Pheaktra had previously said that illegal land grabbing by some villagers had been caused by land traders who had incited them to violate the law and destroy natural resources.

In 2012, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued Directive BB01 ordering an end to disputes involving state land – forest cover land, forest for conversion and land for social and economic concessions.

The directive aimed to legally recognise the land as de facto belonging to those who had occupied it before May 2012. A major operation, it was carried out by cadastral officials and more than 5,000 volunteer youth in 22 provinces including Pursat.

The officials and volunteers worked together to measure the land and issue land titles as per legal procedures.

More than one million hectares were distributed, with the operation ending before the 2013 national elections. It has been estimated that all land occupied before May 2012 has been distributed.

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