An opposition lawmaker is asking the Ministry of Interior to take action against the Banteay Srei district governor who, he claims, has been involved in the sale of 44,186 hectares of forest land in Siem Reap province.
In a letter dated June 28, Son Chhay requests that co-Ministers of Interior Sar Kheng and Prince Norodom Sirivudh take action against District Governor Uon Vong for selling a chunk of the country’s forest.
“I would like the co-ministers to sue the culprit in court and also take disciplinary action against him,” he wrote.
Son Chhay visited the area twice in recent weeks and then decided to contact the ministry because the forest area at stake is so large, he said Tuesday.
“In the past, there was a lot of forest in the district. But most of it has been turned into farmland staked out by the high-ranking officials,” Son Chhay said.
Khieu Sopheak, Interior Ministry spokesman, said Wednesday that he has received Son Chhay’s letter. “The ministry will investigate the matter,” he said.
Uon Vong acknowledged Monday that he has signed documents for villagers to sell their own land
—but not forest land.
For each deal he signed, the documents had first been reviewed and signed by village and commune chiefs, he said.
“It is ridiculous. How can I have and sign 44,000 hectares of forest land like that?” he said. “Please, ministry, come and investigate [me].”
The Forestry Administration, which has been working on the case for some time, has given the land claimants from June 1 to Aug 29 to present ownership documents and avoid confiscation.
The administration still plans to reclaim about 6,925 hectares of that land, Vann Sophanna, chief of Northern Tonle Sap Inspectorate for the Forestry Administration, said last month.
He could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
In June he said that Banteay Srei district and commune officials were involved in signing forest land over to businessmen and powerful individuals but did not mention district officials being involved.
In April, Prime Minister Hun Sen urged the country’s rich and powerful to give up any forest land they have acquired illegally or encroached upon unless they are ready to face legal action.