Officials in Kampong Speu province have accused a man of illegally clearing dozens of hectares of land in the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary to grow sugarcane.
Muong Phy, governor of Oral district, said local land broker Thorng Sokheng bought 100 hectares of land from villagers living on the fringes of the sanctuary, but he later began overstepping the lines of his purchase, illegally clearing land within the sanctuary over the past two years to make way for a planned sugarcane plantation.
“Now we hear that Thorng Sokheng is trying to contact officials [in the Ministry of Environment] to rent out the state land that has already been cleared … but no replies have been received,” Phy said.
Phy added that today, a working group composed of Ministry of Environment officials and local authorities would inspect the site to prepare for an eventual lawsuit. Sokheng could not be reached yesterday.
Yorng Phearum, deputy director of the Oral sanctuary, said the illegal clearing had been stopped by authorities, but not before 54 hectares were cut.
“We do not allow sugarcane plantations or other crops or buildings on the land because it is a wildlife sanctuary managed by the state,” Phearum said.
Since May 2010, the government has instituted a freeze on parcelling out state land to private companies, so attempting to rent out state land, especially in a protected area, is illegal, said Srun Darith, an Environment Ministry cabinet chief.
Darith said that because the land was cleared but not “occupied” yet, punishment would likely come in the form of a fine.
“For clearing sanctuary land, it is necessary to get the perpetrator punished in accordance with the law,” he said.