The Ministry of Environment calls out encroaching

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Authorities gather last year to dismantle houses they claim were illegally constructed in Preah Sihanouk’s Kbal Chhay area. Photo supplied

The Ministry of Environment issued a warning on Wednesday against encroachment on protected natural areas following some instances of intruders clearing forest land for personal gain.

It cited examples of encroachment in the Ream, Bokor and Kirirom national parks and the multi-purpose Kbal Chay freshwater basin in coastal provinces as well as the Lumphat and Srepok wildlife sanctuaries in Ratanakkiri province.

Ministry spokesperson Neth Pheaktra said it will take more drastic measures against the perpetrators.

“We’ve seen an increase in forest land encroachment by offenders who then sell the state properties illegally using titles that have already been void. We’re laying out necessary measures to prevent a repeat of the offences,” he said.

Preah Sihanouk provincial environment department director Samut Sothearith told The Post on Thursday that encroachment is also common in the coastal province.

“The provincial committee has been raising awareness among the public so they could help prevent it,” he said, adding that there had been many cases of encroachment on land in national parks.

“In the past, people held [land documentation] issued by the ministry, but the titles have been revoked. The ministry has already issued an announcement to inform them as some were still mistaken they owned the land legally,” he said.

Pen Bonna, a senior land and natural resources officer at rights group Adhoc, said the ministry needs to take more action.

“The ministry must launch a probe into the illegal sale of state land without permission from the authorities,” he said.

Bonna said the Lumphat and Srepok wildlife sanctuaries in Ratanakkiri province had also borne the brunt with some people even having titles to land in the area.

In Koh Kong province, the environment department said unidentified offenders had illegally cleared 12ha of flooded forest land in Botum Sakor district’s Andong Tek and Thmar Sar communes.

Department director Man Phala said the authority is probing the encroachment and will take more action to prevent repeat offences.

“We’re working on it. Some were outsiders who were paid to clear forest land,” he said.