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Two sought for illegal sale of forest area

Two sought for illegal sale of forest area

OFFICIALS in Oddar Meanchey province are seeking the arrest of a village chief and a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces officer who they say have illegally convinced 200 families to settle in a protected forest area and pocketed payments for plots of land.

Von Bunthoeun, the head of administration for the Forestry Administration office in Samraong town, said officials planned to arrest Kim Saruon, the chief of a village located some 50 kilometres away from the protected forest area. Von Bunthoeun said they were also seeking a deputy provincial chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, whom he could identify only as “Sok”, and “other leaders who have encouraged some soldiers and villagers to seek illegal shelter in the protected forest community”.

“We cannot ignore them anymore,” Von Bunthoeun said.

He said 200 families had settled in the protected area, and that the vast majority of them had arrived since the beginning of this year. He said they had paid between US$300 and $350 for 30-by-50-metre plots of land.

“Kim Saruon has cheated the people by selling this protected forest land to them and by acting as a village chief in the area,” he said.

Mlis Hoeurt, who administers the protected forest area, said it was granted protected status last June, but that 10 families moved there towards the end of 2009. The increase from 10 to 200 families has occurred since January, he added.

“They have destroyed a lot of forest in this community, because they cut down the forest to take over the land,” he said of the families.

Samraong governor Thon Nol said he had received a complaint from the military and also from the families requesting to stay on the land permanently.

Srey Naren, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said the actions of “Sok” and Kim Saruon indicated a lack of respect for the government.

The two men could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.