Kep authorities search for forest encroachers

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A flooded mangrove forest in Tuol Sangam village of the district’s Angkol commune. Photo supplied

Kep provincial governor Som Piseth has ordered the Damnak Changaur district administration to search for a group of people who have encroached on about 10ha land in three areas with flooded mangrove forests in Tuol Sangam village of the district’s Angkol commune.

Piseth told The Post on February 21 that district authorities were currently monitoring the encroachment sites with help from local residents because officials could not remain there around the clock monitoring it.

Piseth said the authorities had found 195 coconut trees planted on 3ha of the encroached land, which he says shows clear intention by whoever planted them to illegally occupy it. Authorities uprooted the trees and destroyed them. They have also removed 11 concrete fence posts as well.

“We refer to them as crooks or opportunists because that’s just what they are. The court has not yet charged them and they come here at night time only, like burglars. This kind of thing happens a lot. Our officials can’t guard these state land 24 hours a day,” said Piseth.

According to Piseth, the people who cleared the flooded mangrove forest and planted coconut and banana trees there are doing so illegally – no matter who they turn out to be – because the land cannot be occupied by anyone legally since it is state land.

“I would like to appeal to all people not to imitate these opportunistic crooks. Please participate in protecting our natural resources for future generations,” he said.

District police chief Tov Sovann said that after receiving the order, the district governor and the police forces went searching for the encroachers.

“Now, we are working to identify the perpetrators and on the lookout for them. District authorities have been dealing with it,” he said.

Ub Sovanchanthorn, Kampot and Kep provincial investigator for rights group Licadho, said he had received some information about cases of encroachment on flooded mangrove forests for private ownership in Angkol commune.

He welcomed the Kep governor’s investigation into the encroachment.

“My understanding is that the case of those who encroached on the flooded mangrove forest in Angkol commune does not involve ordinary people, it is being done by workers hired by powerful and rich people. In fact, their wealth is what gives them these ideas,” Sovanchanthorn said.

“If they were ordinary people, they couldn’t hope to ever succeed in grabbing state land. So, if the provincial governor takes action and searches for the wealthy people behind this conspiracy to be punished according to the law, I will applaud that because I do not want to see anymore loss of mangrove forests in this area,” he said.