The Kampot provincial court has rejected without explanation a complaint from residents of Chhuk district over a 10-hectare mango plantation they claim a former district governor is illegally planting on land that falls within their community forest, according to rights group Adhoc.
Pen Bonnar, senior investigator for land rights and natural resources at the NGO, said he has filed complaints with the Appeal Court and Justice Ministry on behalf of the community, asking for a review of the provincial court’s decision.
“I went to the area with some villagers and we saw the clearing. We have enough evidence to prove that the three people are involved in the case as mentioned in the complaint,” he said.
Mr. Bonnar said he submitted photographs of former Chhuk district chief Ngan Seth clearing land inside the community forest, and named the other men as Van Saron and Nak, though he did not know their relation to the former official.
The community forest in question, which the government official designated in 2006, covers 1,662 hectares in four villages in Taken commune, said Mam Phat, the 53-year-old head of the community that controls it.
“The three people have cleared more than 10 hectares and they are now planting mango trees on the cleared land,” he said.
Both Mr. Phat and Mr. Bonnar claimed that Cane Tree, a company that controls an adjacent land concession, had illegally cleared 300 hectares of the forest. They plan to gather more evidence before filing a second complaint.
Kheav Rithy Phoan, the current governor of Chhuk district, said he did not believe the accusation against his predecessor, but would look into it if the community approached him.
“I think that Mr. Ngan Seth did not clear the forest land as he is accused by the community people,” he said. “But those people should file a complaint with my office and I will order my officials to go there to investigate.”
Neither Mr. Seth nor provincial court officials could be reached for comment.