Man grilled over land clearing in Preah Sihanouk

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Environment officials arrested one of the three suspects in connection with land clearing at the multi-use areas of Prek Teuk Sap Kbal Chhay in Prey Nop district’s Bit Traing commune. Fresh News

Preah Sihanouk provincial police questioned a man on Wednesday in connection with land clearing at the multi-use areas of Prek Teuk Sap Kbal Chhay in Prey Nop district’s Bit Traing commune.

Deputy provincial police chief Kol Phaly, who is in charge of serious crimes, said on Thursday that the suspect is one of three who fled from rangers.

“We received the case from an environment official. He patrolled the area and arrested one of the three suspects in the Kbal Chhay area. He sent the case and the evidence to us,” Phaly said.

A press release issued by the Preah Sihanouk provincial Department of Environment said the government established the multi-use areas of Prek Teuk Sap Kbal Chhay in Prey Nop district’s Bit Traing commune on June 5, 2016.

The provincial environment department observed forest clearing activities for farming, building huts, and erecting fence posts to seize land. Recently, such activities had increased in Bit Traing.

The ranger from the provincial environment department found two tents and evidence of a crime, including a chainsaw, machinery, two knives and an axe.

“Our team suspected that someone was nearby and inspected the area around the tent. We found three people hiding nearby. The three men fled and our team chased and caught one while the other two ran into the forest,” the press release said.

It said under the law on natural protected areas, the rangers brought the man and the evidence to the Preah Sihanouk provincial police.

Preah Sihanouk provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc Cheap Sotheary said on Thursday she supported the implementation of the law.

But she urged the authorities to define and mark protected land and land allocated to citizens because the Kbal Chhay area is large and there seemed to be no clear boundary yet.

Sotheary said the multi-use areas of Prek Teuk Sap Kbal Chhay were often investigated by the authorities, but it was not very effective. If they caught one group, another popped up.

“I want them to clearly define the Kbal Chhay Conservation Area, who manages it and how local authorities should be involved for arrests to be effective.

“In some places, people have been building houses for three or four years already and suddenly the authorities want to crack down on them. So it is complicated and difficult to solve,” Sotheary said.