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.