The Botum Sakor district authorities in Koh Kong province are continuing to investigate cases involving hundreds of people illegally encroaching on more than 15ha of state land.
District governor Hak Leng said on July 6 that the land in question has been allocated from the protected area by the Ministry of Environment to be under the management of the provincial land management committee.
Leng said that while authorities were working to curb the spread of Covid-19, there were people encroaching on the more than 15ha of forest land in Tam Kang and Prolan villages in the district’s Kandorl commune.
He said the land has been handed over to the provincial committee via sub-decree No 30.
“The land had been encroached upon by bad people from inside of the forest and the authorities did not know about it. People in this area thought that it was allowed by the authorities to do this and they also encroached on the land over an area about 2km long and over 50m deep into the forest,” he said.
“If they continue to encroach on state land, we will take legal action. The way that they occupy the land is not just one or two people, but by a group of between 70 and 100 people. They took over all at once, spray-painted the trees, cut them down and divided the land into plots of 50m each.
“It is like they create a district that is not controlled by laws after having invaded in an anarchic way,” he said.
Thong Chandara, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that since the government issued the sub-decree to divide more than 1.6 million hectares off from some protected areas in the province, he observed that encroachment activities on state land seemed to be increasing.
“This is related to public officials and traders who [colluded] to hire people to clear state land in the area in order to share the profits together. Ordinary people do not dare to do anything in a controlled manner [on this large of a scale]. Most likely there is someone [powerful] behind this activity that hired or ordered people to do it,” he said.
Leng said the administration of Botum Sakor district had already planned to distribute the land that has been encroached upon to actual people living in their district.
“We asked the people who invaded the land who was behind this, and they said they invaded by themselves. We do not dare make any accusations about who was behind it, as we don’t have the evidence yet. Now we are launching drones for further investigations and we are searching for the ringleader,” he said.
“For people who want to clear forest land on their property, they have to present documents or letters requesting permission for clearance from the provincial land management committee. People should not continue to encroach on state land illegally. They could be cheated by traders who invade state land illegally and they will all face legal action,” he said.