Minister of Interior Sar Kheng instructed the newly-appointed governors of Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri provinces and their administrations to focus more of their efforts on conservation of the environment, stewardship of natural resources and protection of state lands and forests from encroachment by anyone.
He mentioned that there had been cases where government officials had been found encroaching on state lands resulting in their dismissal from their positions.
Sar Kheng made these remarks while presiding over the appointment of Nhem Sam Oeun as the governor of Ratanakkiri province and Thorng Savun as the governor of Mondulkiri province on October 12.
Sam Oeun was previously the deputy governor of Ratatankkiri province under Savun, scoring his promotion when Savun was transferred over to fill the governorship of Mondulkiri province.
The interior minister noted that Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri provinces both have abundant natural resources and that the provincial authorities must maintain control over those resources, especially the forests, to keep them sustainable and available for future generations.
“It is regrettable, to say the least, that some officials – as we here are all aware – recently have violated the public trust and abused their powers by illegally occupying state lands and other properties. That’s corruption caused by the greed of a few of our provincial officials, and it is most regrettable,” Sar Kheng said.
This issue takes on even more importance, he said, due to the fact that these officials – in their capacity as public servants – often have a direct hand in solving ordinary people’s legitimate land disputes.
Any corruption on their part then totally undermines the public’s confidence in any other land dispute resolutions implemented no matter who is involved and no matter how fair or correct the terms are.
“The most important thing now is that you have to control the natural resources in Mondulkiri. That is the biggest issue. Although some officials have now been sent away due to their involvement with this mess, the problems have not yet ended. You have to pay more attention on this, especially in the protected areas where there are potentially lucrative carbon credits up for sale,” Sar Kheng said.
As Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri both share borders with Laos and Vietnam, Sar Kheng said the two provinces have to maintain good relations with those neighboring countries’ governments and people so all sides mutually benefit.
“To uphold the law and for the national benefit, we urge all officials to take border duties seriously. We must combat all of the crimes that borders create opportunities for like human trafficking, drug trafficking or customs and tax evasion – no matter which side of the border the perpetrators originate from – or else we’ll rightly lose the good cooperation we currently have with our neighbouring officials, and we need to work together with them on these tasks,” he said.
New Mondulkiri provincial governor Savun said that no matter whether the cause was corruption or negligence he was intent on putting a stop to all land encroachment in Mondulkiri and to bring public order to every corner of the province however remote it might be.
“I am committed to enforcing the principles of the safe village and commune effectively in order to protect the peace, ensure political stability, uphold security and maintain public order. I will not tolerate any criminal activity by anyone and we will be especially vigilant against natural resource crimes, illegal forest encroachment, drugs trafficking and illegal weapons possession.
“And we will crack down hard on anyone acting with bad intent who seeks to profit from land disputes over state lands or with the local people,” he said.
Environmental activist Kroeung Tola said that he had heard similar promises made by many high-ranking officials on these very same topics in the past as they were taking office, but his observation was that the deforestation, illegal land encroachment and other natural resource crimes just kept on happening much the same as before.
To effectively protect the remaining natural resources the law must be equally enforced against both the ordinary citizens who are guilty of these crimes and against the government officials who are committing them now with relative impunity in some places.
“Today you don’t see much deforestation taking place anymore in some regions because deforestation can only take place when you actually still have forests left and in many places there is simply no more forest left to chop down – so the absence of loggers in places where there is no longer any forest isn’t exactly an accomplishment officials should brag about.
“And in Mondulkiri the usurpation of state lands by private owners through illegal encroachment and sales is an everyday occurrence and not just in one single protected region but all of them. The buying and selling of state lands is happening all throughout the province every single day,” he said.