Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun has ordered land developer Dy Po to cease offering money to villagers in Kandal province in return for their endorsement of his plans to clear state-owned flooded forest in Ponhea Leu district, according to documents obtained Monday.
The March 14 order follows recent complaints by Environment Minister Mok Mareth and opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, who have accused the businessman of attempting to acquire, through gifts and cash, some 1,700 hectares of flooded forest in Kompong Os commune.
“Oknha Dy Po must not use any means [that encourages] the villagers to destroy the flooded forest,” Chan Sarun wrote in the letter, which was a reply to Son Chhay’s demand for action in the case.
“Immediately stop…depositing money to buy land from the villagers in three villages. If there is a buyer for that land then [villagers] will encroach on more flooded forest,” Chan Sarun added.
Dy Po said he would follow the minister’s order.
“Without any permission from the government, I will not continue the project,” Dy Po said by telephone. “If I buy more land from them, they will continue to clear more flooded forest.”
The forests in Kompong Os commune are flooded by the Tonle Sap during the rainy season and are an important habitat for spawning fish. During the dry season the waters recede and locals informally farm the land. The land, however, is state property and is not for the villagers to sell.
Chan Sarun said in his letter that Dy Po has given 840 families in three villages cash totaling more than $93,000 in return for their agreeing to his acquisition of the flooded forest. Dy Po claims the land will be developed for the benefit of locals, though he has given no details of its intended use.
Son Chhay said he was disappointed that Chan Sarun did not spell out any specific punishment for Dy Po if he continues his attempts to acquire the land.
“I don’t believe that he will stop. He should be punished by the law,” Son Chhay said.