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Trader told to return protected forest land

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NGO director Chea Hean poses for a photo with seized timber in Kampong Speu province last year. Photo supplied

Trader told to return protected forest land

The Kampong Speu provincial environment department has rejected a request for ownership of a large plot of disputed land after finding that it is located in a protected wildlife sanctuary.

The land is the subject of an ongoing court case between trader Sieng Samen and Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organisation director Chea Hean.

Samen sued Hean for defamation after he accused her of clearing state forest land, which she claimed to have bought from local villagers.

She intended to plant cash crops on the land but was repeatedly stopped by Hean, who filed a counter lawsuit accusing her of committing forestry crimes.

A letter sent by environment department acting director Em Sokhun to provincial governor Vy Samnang, dated September 11 and sighted by The Post on Sunday said the 71ha plot in Oral district’s Trapaing Cho commune is part of “forest land” in the protected Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary.

The decision was made after officials from the environment department and the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary made a field visit to the site on September 5. The department has since ordered Samen to return the land.

“The environment department rejects Sieng Samen’s request for ownership of the land in the wildlife sanctuary in Oral district’s Trapaing Cho commune because an inspection showed that the land transaction with the locals was against the law on protected areas.

Hean’s lawyer Lor Kimgech said the environment department’s finding was enough to prove his client’s innocence in the defamation case. He urged the provincial court to proceed with the forestry crime case against Samen.

“The finding of environment department officials, in this case, shows that my client’s work had been carried out in accordance with the law.

“Based on the new finding, I ask the court to drop the defamation case and instead expedite my client’s legal case against Sieng Samen in relation to the illegal land clearing in protected natural areas,” he said.

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