Cambodian govt cancels public claims of ownership in wildlife sanctuary


Environmental officials inspect Prey Lang wildlife sanctuary in Sandan district, Kampong Thom province​ on 2020. - Environment Ministry

PHNOM PENH (The Phnom Penh Post/ANN): The government has repealed all previously issued letters certifying sales, purchases, transfers, occupation or ownership of any land within the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary.

The decision was made following an investigation into land disputes between 188 families and environmental officials in Kampong Thom province.

The disputed land is located within the Tabok and Dey Krahom area of Sandan district’s Sochetr commune.

A letter from the Council of Ministers permanent secretary of state Hing Thoraksy informing the environment minister and provincial governor of the repeals was seen by The Post on Thursday (Jan 28).

The letter said Reaksmey Khemara Party delegates had provided evidence as to the rightful owners of the land in a dispute between the 188 families and Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary rangers.

The letter further states that the government had allowed the provincial administration, along with the Sandan district and Sochetr commune authorities, to repeal all letters certifying the status of any land within the sanctuary.

The letter also instructed the provincial and Sandan district administrations to look into the background of Hien Toy Company to determine the identities of the owners and employees in case they are found to be encroaching on land in the sanctuary so that legal action can then be taken.

According to the letter, the environment ministry in cooperation with the provincial and district administrations has inspected the area and determined the boundaries of the disputed locations in the commune.

The letter goes on to specify that land will be allocated to those people who have been relying on it for their livelihoods or occupying it continuously for a long period of time, and new letters to certify ownership will be issued to them once the allocations are made.

Environment ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra declined to comment on the matter.

Provincial governor Sok Lou declined to provide details, saying he had not received the directive issued by the Council of Ministers.

“I haven’t seen the letter yet so I don’t have a grip on the current situation,” he said.

Reaksmey Khemara Party vice-president Hem Braseur said now that the Council of Ministers has issued this latest directive he expects that the disputed land in the Tabok and Dey Krahom area will be returned to the families who were living on it.

“I hope that the land will be returned to the people and that no one will encroach on the land further,” he said.

Citing claims by those living in the disputed area, he said they have lived and relied on the land for their livelihoods as far back as 2007.

He said there are more than 180 families living on over 1,850ha prior to it being designated as part of the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary.

“Back then, it was not yet designated a wildlife sanctuary. The people lived there and occupied the land for many years and grew cashew and rubber trees. You can see that the trees they planted have grown quite large now.

“But then the government issued a sub-decree designating the area as Prey Lang [sanctuary]. It may be marked on the map as Prey Lang, but the truth is that it isn’t a part of Prey Lang and never really was,” he said. - The Phnom Penh Post/Asia News Network

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