Kep Municipality’s 900-hectare coastline, including the area’s endangered mangrove forest, is being threatened by unbridled land encroachment, a municipal official said Tuesday.
The deteriorating situation prompted Minister of Environment Mok Mareth to issue an order on Monday demanding the return of all confiscated land and to encourage Kep Governor Chan Sam An to set an example by returning a plot of coastline he now owns, Vao Sokha, director of land management for Kep, said on Tuesday.
“Locally, we could not crack down on the illegal encroachment because big people are involved. That is why we sought help from the Ministry of Environment,” Vao Sokha said of the minister’s visit on Monday.
Vao Sokha said that some 145 hectares of coastline, including many hectares of mangrove forest, have already been encroached on by powerful officials and businessmen—including the municipal governor and his predecessor Sim Son.
“Many powerful officials, police officials and also the governor have land…on the coastline,” Vao Sokha alleged.
Mok Mareth declined to comment when contacted on Tuesday.
Chan Sam An denied Vao Sokha’s allegations on Tuesday, saying he had not encroached on Kep’s coastline.
Cham Sam An said he had not occupied the coast but had only landscaped a plot of land on the coastline in front of his own property.
The allegations were made against him because election time was nearing, he said, referring to the 2007 commune elections.
He also added that Kep authorities took action to solve the land-encroachment issue two months ago.
Former Kep governor and now Siem Riep Provincial Governor Sim Son also denied being involved in land encroachment in Kep.
“I have a proper land title. I follow the law,” Sim Son said.