At least 12 people including four soldiers from two “armed gangs” have been sent to Preah Sihanouk provincial court for their involvement in illegal land grabbing in protected areas in Prey Nop district’s Bit Traing commune.
Deputy provincial court prosecutor Kieng Suntharo declined to provide details on Wednesday, saying only that the first group of seven people have been put in pre-trial detention while the other group of four soldiers is being detained for questioning.
District police chief Huor Yai said the two armed gangs had been hired to guard land grabbed illegally by “powerful individuals”.
He said the four soldiers, who claimed to have held land titles since 1999, were arrested on Monday after they backed vehicles used to clear forest in the area. Yai said however that all land titles have been annulled since the area was designated a protected forest cover in 2002.
The four soldiers were identified as Norn Kim Chheng, 48, Nuon Han, 43, Sin Rotha, 36, and Sam Kamsan, 65.
Yai said that some powerful people have continued to use invalid titles to claim land in the area, prompting provincial governor Yun Min to order a crackdown.
The governor told The Post on Wednesday that provincial authorities will take tough measures against land grabbing, which he said has become a chronic issue in the province.
“I have enforced the law by taking action against the perpetrators. On Monday we handled one case and the next day we arrested four more people."
“Some people know nothing [about the law] and use force to abuse innocent people. Not only do they mistreat the people, they even dare to abuse authorities."
“When for instance local authorities make a field visit as part of their duty, they look down on them. So we’ll have to strictly enforce the law,” Min said.
Sun Sophat, a community land representative in the province , said land grabbing involving private companies and powerful people in Prey Nub district’s protected area has continued unabated.
“Land clearing in Prey Nub protected area is mostly done by rich and powerful people."
“They clear the land with [corrupt] Forestry Administration officials behind their back."
“Only the Forestry Administration can verify when or how long people have settled down in the area,” he said.