Authorities identify land grabbers in Battambang

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Rangers seize crops planted by encroachers in Samlaut Multiple Use Area in Battambang province. Photo supplied

Battambang provincial authorities have identified individuals who encroached on Samlaut Multiple Use Area (formerly known as Samlot protected area) in O’Tatoeng village, Samlot commune, in Battambang province.

Provincial Department of Environment director Kort Boran told The Post on Monday that his enforcement team removed more than 300 durian, coconut and other trees on more than 4ha of land in the wildlife sanctuary. They also tore down a hut and seized water pipes and a water pump.

The authorities have identified the suspects who are residents in Battambang province, but Boran declined to reveal details as investigations are ongoing to collect additional evidence for further legal action.

However, he said: “We will not tolerate any land grabbing of state forest and wildlife sanctuary land because the authorities have informed the public of the law regarding encroachment on protected and restricted areas many times.”

Samlot district governor Soeu Sameth said on Monday that he had received information about the crackdown.

He said the trees were planted just two weeks ago and the water pipes were being installed when the authorities raided the encroached area. The seized assets were sent to the Samlot district forestry administration headquarters.

“Our authorities had warned the locals many times about encroachment violations. But now we might form a joint committee to look for any vacant land in the area which can be cut out for poor residents as they cannot afford to buy land,” he said.

Samlout is the last remaining tropical rainforest in northwestern Cambodia and covers 60,000ha. In 2003, the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation (MJP) began to support the park. MJP is a conservation foundation founded by Hollywood star Angelina Jolie.

MJP legal executive director Bou Sina who works with officers of the provincial department of environment said the conservation area is jointly managed by MJP and the Battambang provincial Department of Environment.

He said the name of the area had now been changed to Samlaut Multiple Use Area and over the last few months, encroachers grabbed one plot for personal use and planted hundreds of durian trees.

Sina said when he arrived at the encroached area, he found that the suspects had grabbed some 4ha. They felled many big trees such as trasek, which were sawn into pieces and put in a pile to be burned.

“Spong trees with a diameter of up to nearly 1m were felled to plant crops such as durian and coconut, but when I arrived, the encroachers had already escaped. But the authorities were able to identify them and we are preparing to file a complaint in court,” he said.