Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rights NGO alleges large-scale land grabs planned in Kampong Speu sanctuary

Rights NGO alleges large-scale land grabs planned in Kampong Speu sanctuary

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Chea Hean inspects 1,227ha of forest land in protected areas of Tasal commune in Kampong Speu’s Oral district. CHEA HEAN

Rights NGO alleges large-scale land grabs planned in Kampong Speu sanctuary

The environment watchdog Anti-Corruption Natural Resource Protection and Civil Rights Protection Organisation (ACNCIPO) filed a complaint with the Kampong Speu Provincial Administration on March 28 – opposing what they allege is a company’s plan to clear 1,227ha of wildlife sanctuary land in Oral district’s Tasal commune.

ACNCIPO director Chea Hean said in the complaint that the forest land requested was in Daun Chon, Sorya and Thmey villages in Tasal commune. He said the unspecified company used individual people as an excuse to have the land allocated to them, but in reality would split it and sell the plots for profit.

He said what the firm is doing is contrary to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s wishes – as well as the law covering protected areas – and the location was cleared at the end of last year, with some sections already for sale.

Hean said after individuals requested that the land be allocated to them, he and the relevant authorities inspected the land and found it had been divided into plots – with some for sale.

“My NGO objects to the allocation of this forest land to these people, and asks that ownership be returned to the state. I should also point out that the land is part of the 3,000ha that the Ministry of Environment provided to the Cambodian Police Academy for use as a training centre,” he said.

According to Hean, people who have occupied and lived off state land for at least ten years could request land titles be granted to them, as per government policy. In this case, he believed that a company – whose name he declined to share – had arranged the requests as an excuse to obtain land titles which it could sell.

Hean said only 50 to 60ha of the 1,227ha of forest remained untouched, with the rest cleared. The land is located in the Phnom Oral wildlife Sanctuary.

The Post could not reach a company representative for comment on March 28.

According to a March 26 report – issued by deputy director of the Wildlife Sanctuary Office Thorn Chan – rangers had investigated the encroachment site and determined that the land fell under the jurisdiction of the environment ministry, but had been granted to the police academy.

“The request for land titles covers the land that the ministry gave to the police. About 10ha has been recently cleared and planted with date trees,” the report said.

Provincial governor Vei Samnang could not be reached for comment on March 28, but last week said authorities were collecting and checking data from residents at the proposed site.

Officials would hold a meeting to review the application before they requested the government hand over the land. Samnang did not specify the number of people who had applied.

“The land allocation requests are not linked together; they form a pattern like a tiger skin. They do not all dwell in one place. Some families live near reserved land or forest communities, while some are in the wildlife sanctuary,” he said.

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