Along Cambodia’s coast, businessmen are cutting down protected mangrove forests, constructing fences in the water and filling them with dirt to extend the coastline for private development, officials said Wednesday.
On August 4 Prime Minister Hun Sen created a joint committee headed by the Environment Ministry to crack down on land-and-water grabbing in coastal areas of Kep, Sihanoukville, Kampot and Koh Kong province, Environment Minister Mok Mareth said.
He added that officials from the ministries of Interior, Defense, Agriculture and Land Management are collecting data and considering actions to intervene.
In addition to encroaching on coastal areas and clearing mangroves, some builders are staking the artificial land for sale.
“This can affect the environment,” Mok Mareth said. “We will confiscate it as the state’s property.”
Some areas have already been cleared and filled with dirt; if the process continues, the coast will be barren, he said.
Sihanoukville Municipal Cabinet Chief Sam Sam Ath said the municipality had not received a letter to create the committee, but added that action would be taken against land grabbers.
Lab Bun Rithy, coordinator of the Kep municipality Coastal Resources Center, said that he had seen a number of coastline encroachments, including two currently under construction. He said that both artificial plots—one near the town and the other in a more remote area—were relatively small, and “it looks like they are going to build a house.
“According to the land law, [mangrove forests] should belong to the public,” Lab Bun Rithy said. “And they build into the sea, which also should belong to the public.”
Koh Kong Provincial Governor Yuth Phouthang said authorities had already prevented wealthy land grabbers from extending a dirt coastline in Smach Meanchey district’s Smach Meanchey commune.
“They have money, and they want to fill [the shallows] with dirt to make it a resort,” he said. “Now we’re very strict.”