The Siem Reap provincial administration has ordered its relevant authorities to take legal measures against anyone illegally clearing and grabbing wetland, community land or natural protected areas. It also urged them to immediately stop issuing ownership letters and documents for such land.
The announcement, obtained by The Post on Monday, said the provincial administration had observed that some individuals had encouraged local people to clear and burn down community forest, wetland and natural protected areas in the province so they could bring it under private ownership.
It said the excuse given was that there was a shortage of farmland and that they had only cleared land that was separate from the community forest.
To effectively manage those areas, the administration said, the relevant authorities must completely halt activities that encouraged people to clear land illegally, including dividing or sharing community forest, or wetland. Farming on such land was prohibited, the announcement said.
“Local authorities, especially village, commune, district and municipal chiefs and specialist departments, must immediately suspend all authorisations of state land acquisition, or [the provincial administration] will take legal action,” the announcement read.
Provincial Department of Agriculture director Tea Kimsoth said on Monday that there had been some cases of illegal land grabbing, but only on a small scale.
In Svay Leu district, for example, a group of villagers used tractors to clear wetland, but the authorities stopped it promptly, he said.
Kimsoth said so far this year, there have been about eight cases resulting in arrests for inciting villagers to clear wetland or community forests.
“The authorities educated or fined them in accordance with the law, and we will continue to push for more enforcement.
“In particular, we are raising awareness as widely as possible so people understand the difference between state land, the land we allocate to the poor and land that belongs to companies – because we don’t want to have problems with land disputes,” he said.
Chan Chamroeun, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said some wetland and community forest had been cleared by rich and powerful people when the authorities had been slow to intervene.
He said he supported the announcement and called on the authorities to crack down on any land grabs in a timely fashion, regardless of whether the perpetrators were well-connected or otherwise.
“If the relevant authorities follow the announcement, I hope land will be better protected and crackdowns on crimes more successful.
“But if they’re still afraid of the rich and powerful, the announcement will not be effective,” Chamroeun said.