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Samlot rife with land grabs

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A swath of cleared land is shown in a Battambang province area of the Samlot Protected Area. Authorities are facing mounting pressure to fend off those trying to illegally grab land in the region. Photo supplied

Samlot rife with land grabs

Authorities are facing mounting pressure to safeguard the Samlot Protected Area, where villagers and wealthy land-grabbers continue to trespass to start orchards and claim ownership of the plots.

The area, which straddles Battambang and Pailin provinces, is jointly protected by the Ministry of Environment and the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation (MJP), which was set up by Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie.

She had established the foundation in 2003 to conserve the Kingdom’s endangered Cardamom Mountains’ northern territory.

Samlot Protected Area head You Socheat said yesterday that villagers and traders had recently logged and cleared land in the area, while some fenced it to claim ownership.

“Environment ministry rangers managed to intercept in time to solve the issues. They are patrolling regularly to prevent such violations,” he said.

Socheat said a senior official grabbed about 30 hectares of land, built a house and started a fruit farm planting rambutan, mangosteen and durian trees. He declined to reveal further details on the trespasser.

Tycoon implicated

Meanwhile, Cambodia-Thailand border police told The Post that a tycoon, Por Kimpheng, discreetly cleared land at the O’Trabek Chou waterfall, while in O’Roka, near the Thai border, villagers colluded with land dealers to clear an area to start an orchard.

However, officials who patrolled the area put a stop to the activities.

Yesterday, Kimpheng denied that his company was involved in developing the area and claimed he did not send any vehicles into the forest.

“I don’t dare to use my vehicles to clear land in the protected area and wildlife sanctuary. If I enter, the rangers will intercept my people and vehicles immediately. My company also does not have land or development projects near the area,” he said.

However, Battambang provincial Environment Department Director Koeut Noran said villagers and land grabbers continue to clear the forest and carry out logging at the Samlot Protected Area.

“At the moment our environment team is deploying more forces to prevent these illegal activities,” he said.

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