Officials of the Kampong Speu provincial environment department have stopped some 300 members of the ethnic Suoy minority from building demarcation posts on a 15ha plot in Oral district.
They said the land is located within the protected Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary and are probing a potential collusion between the ethnic community and land brokers.
Provincial environment department director Em Sokhun told The Post on Tuesday that the 300 villagers represent 300 ethnic Suoy families from Kodontey, Putrea and Tanil villages in Trapaing Cho commune.
He said they had encroached state land in the sanctuary, and that each of them had cleared around 500sqm of land and planted the border posts without official approval.
“Our officials have explained to them that their activities were against the law, but they refuse to listen and continue to set up the posts on state land repeatedly."
“We suspect that they are being used by brokers who intend to claim the land for personal gain, and we are investigating,” Sokun said.
Khoeun Samrith, a representative of the Suoy ethnic community in Kodontey village, said the land was originally part of Suoy ethnic communal land.
He said the government ceded the land to Cosmo, a private company that had obtained an investment licence to turn the popular Te Teuk Pos hot spring into an ecotourism site.
In 2015, the firm went bankrupt and the land was returned to the government.
Samrith said the Suoy ethnic community members planted the border posts to prevent outsiders from grabbing the land.
“The land has recently been cleared. When we asked the authorities, especially environment officials managing the area, they said they didn’t know."
“We are worried that the communal land is being cleared and sold to private companies. We are also afraid of being accused of selling the land."
“Hence, to protect the communal land, Suoy ethnic community members from three villages agreed to reoccupy it, despite prohibition by environment officials,” he said.
Samrith disputed the environment officials’ claims that the communal land belonged to the protected Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary, which is under the jurisdiction of the Environment Ministry.
Lem Heng, another Suoy ethnic community representative, said they would not protest if the communal land is included in a state-owned ecotourism project.
Heng said the community worries that the land may have been sold to the company. He said forest in the planned ecotourism site had been cleared, but there had been no noticeable signs of development in the area.
Oral district governor Muong Phy insisted on Tuesday that the land in question is part of the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary. He said the actual communal land spans 3085.68ha and has already been registered.
“We suspect the encroachment on the wildlife sanctuary involved collusion with land brokers. Other villagers who have registered their land can sell it after registration."
“But the Suoy ethnic community from the three villages have no right to sell their land because it has already been registered collectively as communal land,” he said.