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Taskforce to fight all state land grabs in M’kiri forests

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Mondulkiri Provincial Administration officials crack down on encroachment at a state pine plantation on Tuesday. FORESTRY ADMINISTRATION

Taskforce to fight all state land grabs in M’kiri forests

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon formed a joint-task force for the prevention of forestry crimes in Mondulkiri province following a clampdown on illegal occupation of state land there.

On January 10, provincial forces cracked down on illegal occupation of a state-owned pine tree plantation in Sen Monorom town’s Romnea commune and dismantled wooden and concrete posts and barbed wire fences constructed by the perpetrators.

According to a letter signed by Sakhon on January 11, two of the task force’s four working groups are responsible for legal research and other legal work related to forest control and crackdown on forestry crimes.

The third group is in charge of investigations and combating forest crimes of all kinds directly. They will go to the scene, search for people involved and seize evidence for the prosecutor.

The fourth team is in charge of collecting land survey information, mapping and verifying information from older maps to pinpoint the locations of the forest crimes – a matter of obvious concern given the nature of these offences. They will use GPS and drones in their work and make daily reports on their activities.

Mondulkiri provincial governor Thorng Savun also issued a directive on January 10 warning that those who colluded to encroach upon state land of any category – be it forest cover, natural resource protected areas, protected biodiversity corridors or any other state private land or state public land in the province – are committing crimes as defined by the Criminal Code, forestry law and other regulations.

“To avoid criminal prosecution, the provincial administration appeals again to all individuals involved in these illegal actions to halt their activities and leave after dismantling any constructions on state land. Return the land to the authorities’ control,” he said.

Savun said offenders will be punished according to the relevant laws, which could result in a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

O’Raing district governor Siek Mony said the governor’s letter was a strict directive that he must follow and enforce thoroughly.

Kreung Tola, an adviser to the Bunong indigenous communities in Mondulkiri, said that mere appeals by the authorities produce nothing because those who encroach on forest land, state private land and even private land are not ordinary people. He said the offenders are those who are being paid by powerful and wealthy interests to carry out these activities with the understanding that they need not fear any consequences.

Rights group Adhoc spokesman Soeung Sen Karuna said the decision to form the task force was made despite Sakhon having already seen that previous working groups of similar design and purpose had not been effective either.

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