Authorities in Koh Kong province are searching for the individuals who set up border posts on nearly 200ha of protected forest, with officials and activists claiming that powerful tycoons had hired local people to encroach on the land.
On Sothearith, governor of Koh Kong’s Thma Bang district, told The Post on November 22 that after protected forest land was allocated to people who had lived in the district’s Russey Chrum commune for many years, some people came in to claim the conservation areas with the intent to sell the land to businessmen.
“This land is in a protected area, not in an allocated area. As the first conclusion, the encroachment on the land was by the local people. They heard the government was allocating the land and that there are people willing to buy land in the area,” Sothearith said.
According to Sothearith, the authorities are working to identify these individuals so they can arrest and send them to court. He added those people were secretly setting up border post on the land at night.
Thong Chan Dara, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the problem of encroachment on state land started after Prime Minister Hun Sen in July ordered relevant ministries to inspect and measure the land so it could be allocated to local people who lived in the conservation areas.
He added that wealthy and powerful people had allegedly hired individuals to cut down trees and set up border posts to proclaim their ownership of the state land.
“Some people have planted large trees on state land and hired people to build houses or cottages on land in protected and conserved areas to make it look like they have owned the land for a long time. Most of them are influential people who do so as proof of ownership so that they can request allocation of the land,” Chan Dara said.
Provincial Department of Environment director Morn Phalla said on November 22 that encroachment on state land had recently been on the rise in the province.
“The increase of encroachment on state land is because bad people have heard that the land is allocated from the protected area to people who don’t have land. They think the area that they are encroaching on is land the authorities have allocated,” he said.
During a recent plenary meeting at the Council of Ministers, Hun Sen ordered the ministries of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction; Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; and Environment to allocate land for people who had lived for more than 10 to 20 years in conservation areas and on other protected state land.
The ministries were told in July to issue land titles to those residents and to do so in the coming months. Hun Sen also warned of legal action against powerful people who hire others to encroach on protected land.