The Council of Ministers last week overturned an earlier directive that placed a 21-hectare mangrove forest in Kampot province, which is inhabited by 300 families, into the hands of five individuals, officials said.
In a letter dated June 18, Council of Ministers Secretary of State Prak Sokhon canceled his May 7 directive handing over a 21.364-hectare mangrove forest in Kompong Trach district’s Lok commune to five men from a nearby village.
The new directive asks the ministries of Interior and Agriculture to investigate the matter and report back to “the head of government” before issuing a new decision on the mangrove.
More than 300 families filed complaints at the provincial fisheries administration in early June alleging that four of the 21 hectares of mangrove forest had been cleared.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and Provincial Governor Thach Khorn had endorsed the original directive giving away the land.
Provincial Fisheries Deputy Director Thai Samorn said Monday that the mangrove forest is on state land and that nobody can sell or take it. The mangrove has also been under the jurisdiction of the Lok village community since 2004.
On condition of anonymity, a 40-year-old villager said the community, surprised by the new directive, deserved to get their land back because they all support the CPP.
“We are CPP people. We should get back what we want,” the villager said by telephone Monday.
Try Chhoun, Kampot provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, applauded the new directive but speculated whether it was a mere attempt to gain votes ahead of the July 27 election.
“People will get what they want when the election is coming,” she said by telephone Monday.
CPP Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun said the new directive has nothing to do with votes.
“It is not about the election, but we do everything for the sake of our people,” he said by telephone.
“Villagers should get the benefits from the mangrove forest.”
Prak Sokhon and Thach Khorn could not be reached for comment Monday.