A government effort to clear residents from protected areas in Kampot province and Kep town has stalled because of land-title claims, provincial and environmental officials said this week.
Environment Minister Mok Mareth said Wednesday that residents of a popular waterfall area in Kampot province are resisting a government directive to vacate, claiming they have land titles.
“It is very complicated [ordering the residents to vacate the protected area],” Mok Mareth said. “…I cannot understand why land titles were issued in the waterfall area.”
Mok Mareth said he will report the “complicated problem” to Prime Minister Hun Sen upon his return from his trip abroad and also ask for suggestions from the Council of Ministers on how to deal with the issue.
In August, the Council of Ministers issued an order for land violators to vacate protected areas in Kampot and Kep by Sept 30.
The areas include the Kampot waterfall and parts of the 140,000-hectare Bokor National Park and the 5,000-hectare Kep National Park.
Environmental officials claim that residential use of the land is prohibited in the areas, which are protected by law.
Kampot Governor Ly Sour said Wednesday more than 100 residents in the waterfall area have been informed of the directive.
But he confirmed that land titles were issued by Kampot authorities in the early 1990s, and that the land owners now are demanding compensation for vacating their farms and houses.
Overall, he said, about 200 people have had property in the waterfall area for years, including a few high-ranking government officials who have farms.
Under the current directive, officials say that unauthorized land holders will be requested to sign agreements not to attempt to reclaim the land.
Land clearing increasingly has become a problem in Cambodia. Besides issues of deforestation and soil erosion, environmental officials say they are concerned with pollution.
For example, they charge that pumps have been used to water crops in Kampot, and fuel has spilled over into the waterfall area.