Kampong Thom provincial authorities have determined that over 10,000ha of flooded forestland located in three different areas near the province’s Tonle Sap Lake shoreline have been illegally encroached upon, with more than 200 families having already returned in excess of 2,000ha of misappropriated land back over to the state.

Provincial governor Nguon Rattanak told The Post on December 9 that the roughly 200 families were made to sign contracts promising to cease and desist all encroachment activities including the clearing of land to claim private ownership.

He said the authorities were working on the reclamation of over 3,500ha of flooded forest in another area that has already resulted in 40 cases of offenders being sent to court.

“We have yet to finish the measurements because in certain places we can’t do them yet as the water hasn’t receded and we can’t see the boundary posts. But we do know that more than 10,000ha of land in these three areas has been encroached upon,” he said

Rattanak said no perpetrators have been arrested or detained as yet because most of the guilty parties had fled after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered a massive crackdown operation on those engaged in encroachment around the lake.

Since investigations began in late November, authorities found that nearly 30,000ha of state land consisting of flooded forests around the lake spanning six provinces have been cleared by illegal squatters for personal benefit, resulting in the destruction of vital spawning grounds for the lake’s fish population.

The Fisheries Administrations in the provinces are now preparing tens of thousands of tree saplings to plant on the reclaimed land and are calling on volunteers to help with the huge reforestation effort.

In Kampong Chhnang province, authorities led a working group to spread the word and warn the public against encroachment on the land near the lake.

“As for farmers who have sown rice on land they leased from crooked people previously, the provincial authorities will allow them to gather their final harvest in the next few months, but then they must go and anyone who tries it again will face legal action,” said deputy governor San Yo.

The provincial hall said that from November 29 through December 7, nearly 300 families in three districts – Kampong Leng, Cholkiri and Baribor – had returned nearly 3,000ha of flooded forest land back to the state.

Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction Chea Sophara told The Post on December 9 that the inter-ministerial working group will inspect the areas of encroachment in all six provinces, starting with Kampong Chhnang and ending with Siem Reap.

He said the work of reclaiming the flood forests was proceeding with good momentum and much had already been achieved towards the goal of protecting and rehabilitating these forests in a short period of time.