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Three Preah Sihanouk land grabbers nabbed

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Three suspects arrested for clearing state forest land at Kbal Chhay protected area in Preah Sihanouk province on March 13. Environment Ministry

Three Preah Sihanouk land grabbers nabbed

Environment officials are preparing to send three suspects to the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court after arresting them on March 13 in connection with encroachment on state forest land in the multi-use areas of Prek Teuk Sap Kbal Chhay in Prey Nop district.

Provincial Department of Environment director Samuth Sothearith told The Post the trio were being detained at police station awaiting Covid-19 testing results.

Sothearith said he had already sent a case file to the provincial court prosecutor.

“Their health seems fine but we will not send them to court until we get their Covid-19 test results. This procedure was coordinated with the prosecutor,” he said.

According to Sothearith, the three suspects confessed that they had cleared forest in the protected area of Prek Teuk Sap Kbal Chhay in the early morning for three to five days already.

Before the arrest, he said forest rangers saw suspicious activities and secretly watched the area until they were able to catch them.

Park rangers also seized two bulldozers and two chainsaws.

Provincial court deputy prosecutor Lim Bunheng confirmed that the trio had not been sent to court.

Cheap Sotheary, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said she had not yet received detailed information about this case.

But she noted that in the past, environmental officials and the Forestry Administration had accused people of encroaching on state land even though they had been living in the area for many years.

In a press release on March 13, the environment department said that recently opportunists invaded the Acacia forest in the Kbal Chhay area while security forces and park rangers were busy working to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Many hectares of Acacia trees and natural forests, it said, have been cleared by opportunists who often work at night in Stung Hav district’s Otres commune.

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