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Four in Koh Kong, Kampong Thom held for clearing protected forest

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Three of four men accused of using bulldozers between 2016 and this year to clear forest land in the Chaom Mrech community natural protected area in Kampong Thom province’s Prasat Balang district have been arrested. FRESH NEWS

Four in Koh Kong, Kampong Thom held for clearing protected forest

In separate community protected areas in Koh Kong and Kampong Thom provinces last week, four people were detained for illegally clearing forests to occupy them.

A warrant issued by Kampong Thom provincial court Investigating Judge Seng Bunna and obtained by The Post on Monday ordered security forces to bring three charged people to be provisionally detained at Kampong Thom prison.

The warrant said one of the three suspects was a village chief. He and two accomplices were accused of using bulldozers between 2016 and this year to clear forest land in the Chaom Mrech community natural protected area, in Prasat Balang district’s Sala Visay commune, for their personal use.

They were charged under Article 62 of the Law on Natural Protected Areas, the warrant said.

It said the suspects were a 67-year-old village chief, the 42-year-old head of Chaom Mrech community natural protected area and a 33-year-old accomplice. All three were residents of Prasat Balang district’s Sala Visay commune.

Provincial Department of Environment spokesman Tob Kakada said as custodians of the Chaom Mrech community land, instead of helping to protect it, they instead colluded to grab and sell it to residents from other provinces.

He said 180 residents representing hundreds of families had sued the suspects for clearing some 30ha of community land.

In a separate case, the Koh Kong provincial Department of Environment collaborated with Military Police and Wildlife Alliance forces to crack down on natural resource crimes on Sunday.

During the operation, a man was arrested for allegedly clearing forest land with a bulldozer in Sre Ambel district’s Dang Peng commune to bring under his ownership.

Koh Kong provincial Department of Environment director Morn Phalla could not be reached for comment on Monday.

But a provincial Department of Environment press release dated Sunday and obtained by The Post on Monday said the suspect’s wife had asked for 10ha of land to be set aside.

It said the suspect depended on 4ha for his livelihood and had built a house to live in without being prevented from doing so by the authorities or environmental officials.

Another 6ha was on protected land that environmental officials and Wildlife Alliance forces had made clear should not be cleared, the press release said, but the suspect began to clear it anyway.

An environmental official said the suspect had contravened the first section of Article 62 of the Law on Natural Protected Areas.

He said the law required the Department of Environment to gather a case to be presented to the provincial court prosecutor.

Soeng Sen Karuna, the senior investigator at rights group Adhoc, said enforcing the law against ordinary people was only a small part of tackling the problem. “Legal action must be taken fairly against the rich and poor.

“In the past, we’ve seen fewer Oknhas [tycoons] arrested for encroaching on land. But when it comes to the poor, we’ve seen many,” he claimed.

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