Two men, including a village chief, were arrested on Friday for allegedly grabbing and clearing 10ha of forest land in Pursat province’s Veal Veng district.

Krasaing Pnov village chief Penh Sarorn, 49, and Vong Phalla, 50, were arrested on the orders of Pursat provincial governor Mao Thorin, Veal Veng district police chief Theang Leng told The Post on Monday.

Leng said in his capacity as village chief, Sarorn signed titles giving Phalla ownership over land in Veal Veng district’s Krapoeu Pi commune. Phalla later used that title to clear 10ha for farming.

“The land was off-limits because it is in a forest, but villagers occupied the land nonetheless. They requested titles for the land which were signed against the law by the village and commune chiefs with permission from their superiors.

“Accordingly, I have been instructed to arrest these two men and deliver them to the provincial department of environment for further action,” said Leng, who added that the men planned to clear at least one more hectare.

Provincial department of environment director Pan Morakat said the police sent the accused to the department on Sunday evening. Officials began interrogating them on Monday to collect evidence before sending them to court.

Morakat said he could not provide further details as the investigation was ongoing.

Krapoeu Pi commune chief Teach San said villagers have been clearing forest land for farming since 2018.

He said he issued several land titles to villagers after they told him they needed the documents to secure loans with microcredit organisations.

He later learned that some of that land belonged to a forest, and confronted the villagers to stop them from clearing the plots. However, by the time he confronted the villagers, some had already sold the land for as much as $500 per hectare.

Thorin could not be reached for comment on Monday.