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Villagers: Take action against Koh Kong land grab

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Sre Ambel district authorities, environmental officials and more than 200 community members stopped logging activities and encroachment on the flooded mangrove forest in the village on September 25. SUPPLIED

Villagers: Take action against Koh Kong land grab

More than 200 residents of Chroy Svay community’s Saray Khang Cheung village in Koh Kong province’s Sre Ambel district urged authorities and the provincial Department of Environment to take action against people who have encroached on the community’s flooded forest land.

On September 25, Sre Ambel district authorities, environmental officials and more than 200 community members stopped logging activities and encroachment on the flooded mangrove forest in the village.

Authorities said they found people building fences and clearing forests in the Chroy Svay natural resource community protected area and briefly detained one villager named Pov Phat for questioning about land clearing and pole planting.

Before the questioning, around 200 people removed the fence poles, but suddenly Phat pulled out a knife, chased the people and officials and insulted them. Phat’s wife named Prum Sambath then came to talk with the officials and village authorities about forest clearing.

The community asked environmental officials to take action against Phat in accordance with legal procedures for encroaching on flooded forest land in the protected area.

Kun Hok, head of Chroy Svay community protected area, said about 100ha of flooded mangrove forest there had been encroached upon repeatedly, with about 90 per cent of it affected.

“People want to see law enforcement against perpetrators. But when officials arrived, they don’t do anything. They let our community committee ask questions and report to them to file a complaint to court,” he said.

Hok said people in the community regularly patrol the forest and report to relevant authorities every month.

“People want to see law enforcement because this case is a real crime, but they do not arrest people who encroach on community forest land, so people are not happy,” he said.

According to Hok, the encroachment on the state land was carried out by brokers and criminals who encouraged local people to believe that the land could be occupied.

“The traders who asked people to encroach on the state’s land gave them $2,000 to $2,500 per hectare after encroachment,” he said.

Environment department director Hun Marady could not be reached for comment on September 26.

Sre Ambel governor Chea Chankanha said the district administration had handed over the task to the commune authorities and environmental official to search for the perpetrators for legal procedures.

“I am working on this by having expert officials search for perpetrators, so I need information from all angles,” he said.

Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said on September 23 that after Prime Minister Hun Sen’s order on July 3, 2020, to allocate land for people who have lived on it for many years, some people have occupied forest land and claimed it as their own.

“This is an issue where we have compiled various documents to determine the identity of the occupants and we will refer them to court,” he said.

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