Gov’t Pinpoints Hundreds of Illegal Loggers

Forestry officials said on Mon­day that they have identified hundreds of land speculators who have cleared state-owned forest land in Siem Reap province, but charged that court officials have been slow to act against the violators.

Vann Sophanna, chief for the For­estry Administration’s North­ern Tonle Sap Inspectorate, said that his officials have identified 230 land speculators in Siem Reap.

“We have identified the violators, [but] the court seem afraid of the rich and powerful,” Vann Sophanna said.

The Forestry Administration is scheduled to reclaim around 7,000 hec­tares of forest land in Siem Reap’s Banteay Srei district that rich speculators have staked a claim to, he said.

The cases against the 230 land grabbers was filed with the court about eight months ago, but few cases have been heard, he said.

Siem Reap Provincial Court Di­rect­or Plang Chlam denied the court was dragging its feet on the cases.

“We are the court. What the government encourages us to do, [we] are not afraid to do,” he said.

“Forest land belongs to the state and if someone claims it we will con­fiscate it for the state,” Plang Chlam said, adding that a backlog of cases was likely the reason for the slow progress.

So Vat, Siem Reap court prosecutor, said the court had already heard most of the cases filed by the forestry administration.

Pol Kham Nare, deputy director of the Forestry Administration’s North­ern Tonle Sap Inspectorate, agreed that court hearings on similar land speculation in Preah Vihear prov­ince have been slow.

Pol Kham Nare said Preah Vi­hear officials in cooperation with RCAF soldiers pulled down demarcation poles last month along a 60-km stretch of road in Choam Kh­san district.

An estimated 43,000 hectares of forested land has been illegally claim­ed and staked out since Oct­ober 2004 in the provinces of Ban­teay Meanchey, Siem Reap, Oddar Meanchey, Kompong Thom and Preah Vihear, according to Vann Sop­hanna.

In April, Prime Minister Hun Sen urged the rich and the powerful to give up any forested land they have acquired illegally or encroach­ed upon, otherwise they would face legal action.



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