ream national park – Hundreds of families are illegally buying and selling land in Sihanoukville’s Ream National Park, according to Environment Ministry officials, but little is being done to stop the practice.
Environment Ministry Secretary of State Yin Kim Sean said Monday that his ministry is aware of the illegal deals, but has no firm plan to stop them.
“We will stop them in the future,” Yin Kim Sean said. “We already have the natural resources protection law to prevent and stop this.”
Yin Kim Sean declined to provide details as to when or how the government will crack down on those who buy and sell parkland.
“We will solve them one by one. How can we solve it all at once?” he said.
Ream National Park covers 21,000 hectares of land, consisting of mangroves and mountains, and was declared a national park in 1993.
In addition to being illegal, the clearing, buying and selling of parkland has created a rift among villagers living in Ream.
Villager Kang Kong, 56, who claimed to represent 145 families living in Prey Nop district’s Oknha Heng commune, filed a complaint with Ream Park Director Neou Karun over the alleged illegal selling off of 110 hectares of parkland that has since been built upon to create what local residents refer to as Thmei, or new, village.
Kang Kong, who lives in neighboring Bort Koki village, told reporters during an interview at his home last week that the reason villagers filed the complaint was simple: They want the land for themselves.
“Villagers can feed their cows and buffaloes,” he said. Kang Kong added that he is well aware that the area is part of the national park and that it is illegal to own land there, but because most of the families living in the park have done so since the 1980s, they felt entitled.
“If they [the government] sell all the land, where can we go?” Kang Kong said.
During a visit to Thmei village last week, reporters saw about 100 recently constructed houses positioned inside the park on land villagers claimed was cleared in 2007. A wooden sign near the houses posted by the Environment Ministry clearly indicates that the area is part of Ream National Park.
Seng Sokhorn, 61, bought her house in Thmei village for $15,000 in 2007 from other villagers who had cleared the land—fully aware that it is on parkland and illegal to own. She said she had had no concerns about the possibility of being evicted.
“I am not worried. If they evict me, give me the money,” the mother of six said at her home.
“I have not heard of anyone who would chase us away,” she added.
Seng Sokhorn’s son, Lim Da Seng, 29, has his own home in Thmei village. He too said he was not worried about being removed from the park.
“Samdech [Prime Minister] Hun Sen has declared that villagers can live on where they are,” he said.
“I am not worried because I did not grab the land; I bought the land.”
In an interview at Thmei village, deputy commune police chief Vann Long claimed he has no power to stop the villagers from buying or selling parkland.
“Villagers just came to live here,” Vann Long said. “When the government needs it back, its up to the government.”
“It won’t be easy to tell people to leave,” he added.
Ream Park Director Neou Karun declined to comment Friday specifically on the land dispute among the villagers, but said that, in general, the villagers can live within the park for now.
“If they already live there [before 1993], they can continue to live there,” he said by telephone, but added, “Any land sale or buying is against the law.” “Villagers have cleared the land in an anarchic way,” he said, adding that the government does not recognize Thmei village as an official entity.