Preah Sihanouk provincial authorities are building a case to send a group of 10 suspects to court for allegedly instigating around 300 people to encroach on state land in the Southern Cardamom National Park in Cham Srey village of Kampong Seila district and commune.
Provincial administration spokesman Kheang Phearom told The Post on March 14 that there were 295 people who went to occupy land in the park, but they were stopped with 10 “ringleaders” arrested.
“Police and environmental officials are building a case to send the 10 suspects to court for further legal procedures,” he said.
Preah Sihanouk provincial environment department said the group of nearly 300 people had assembled and tried to take over the state land.
It said that on March 13, the district authorities explained to the local people that the land belongs to the state and cannot be occupied illegally, but they did not listen. The officers later arrested the 10 ringleaders and confiscated many tools like hammers, axes, nails, machetes, tents, cars and motorbikes. All of the evidence will be sent to court.
The department said the national park was established in May 2016 as a sustainable multi-use natural area to enhance environmental protection and biodiversity preservation. The park borders Koh Kong, Pursat and Kampong Speu provinces.
The department added that in the past, it had also taken action against offences such as forest clearance, crop growing, hut building and illegal demarcation intended to allow land to be occupied in the area.
According to articles 56 and 62 of the law on natural protected areas, any individual who illegally clears and burns the forest for personal ownership can be punished with a jail term of between five and 10 years and a fine of up to 150 million riel ($36,700). Any company found committing the offence faces a fine of between 150 and 250 million riel and all the evidence seized in the case will be confiscated.
The punishment will be doubled in case of repeated offences.
Sun Sophat, a representative of the NGO Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Communities (CCFC), and Cheap Sotheary, the provincial coordinator of rights group Adhoc, said they had yet received details of the case and could not comment.