Officials in Pursat province say they continue to search for perpetrators who cleared forest land at the western part of Stung Atai’s hydropower area located at Veal Veng district.

Pursat provincial deputy governor Khoy Rida told The Post on Monday that on Saturday afternoon, under a direct order from Pursat provincial governor Mao Thornin, a group checked the forest land in question after it was reported that someone had cleared it.

Officials said they want to catch and punish those responsible and then plant trees to restore the area.

“It took time to get across the water there and the perpetrator escaped,” Rida said, adding that “we still cannot measure the whole of the damage yet”.

Kampong Chhnang and Pursat provincial Adhoc coordinator Sam Chankea said the operation to protect the forest land in this area is not too late yet.

He said the provincial authority should put in the effort to find the suspects behind the clearance of forest land and that so far, some areas were cleared but most of the perpetrators were not arrested. Meanwhile, he said, innocent people had been arrested.

“In O’som and Veal Veng, two or three citizens who were not involved in clearing land in the restricted area were detained. The ringleader behind the operation, however, has not been caught,” he said.

Chankea said the clearing of forest land was started by a small group of people supported by the ringleader who gets them to clear the forest from one area to another.

He said poor people are persuaded to clear the forest land and then grow crops. When authorities intervene they claim that they have been permanently living on the land for a long time.