Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra on Tuesday warned villagers not to believe ill-intentioned land agents and called on people to stop all illegal grabbing of state-owned land or face punishment in accordance with the law.
He said that because land prices had increased dramatically, some corrupt brokers used innocent villagers to illegally grab state forest land as personal property in national parks and other protected areas.
“The bad guys follow the theory that ‘if you win, you get land, if you fail, you get money’.
“They deceive innocent people into taking ownership of state land or land that is registered to other people,” Pheaktra said.
He advised people not to participate in any action that violates the law, otherwise they would face legal challenges because nobody can buy and sell state land.
“Sometimes, innocent people are told to build huts and plant crops on land [which does not belong to them] to make it seem like they have lived in the area for a long time.
“When the [government] orders them to move away, they are compensated and a small portion of the land is handed over to them.
“Before buying and selling any property, you need to be careful not to get involved with any state land or land that is not properly registered, which will cause a lot of issues,” he said.
Pheaktra added that authorities have been investigating to find the people behind the land grabs and send them to court, as well as withdrawing government property which has been illegally occupied.
Meanwhile, local authorities called for an immediate halt to all buying and selling of state land and warned that any such activity was illegal.
Those who continue to break the law will face serious legal consequences in accordance with the Law on Natural Protected Areas, the Law on Forestry, and the Land Law.
On April 8, Minister of Environment Say Sam Al attended the first meeting of a national and sub-national working group tasked with tackling a variety of problems in Preah Sihanouk province.
He vowed that all existing land disputes in the province would be resolved and no new cases entertained. He also threatened legal action against those who attempt to grab state land.
Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community president Theng Savoeun told The Post on Wednesday that if the ministry only issues warnings, it would not be effective enough to prevent the continued violation of government forest land.
“As an official representing a civil society organisation that works directly with villagers in provincial communities, I ask the Ministry of Environment to take strong action against the masterminds who incite villagers to grab state forest land.
“According to my observations, Ream National Park, as one example, has been severely violated and cut down by powerful individuals and [high ranking] government officials,” he said.