The agricultural director in Mondolkiri province said he was investigating a complaint that accuses another government official of seizing 40 hectares of land in the protected Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary and clearing it to grow cashews.
Keo Sopheak, director of the province’s agricultural department, said yesterday that he had been approached by villagers who contend that Yon Sarom, director of the province’s rural area department, set up a plantation several years ago after unlawfully taking the land.
Mr. Sopheak said he was preparing a formal request to Svay Sam Eang, the provincial governor, to retake the land. The chief of Romnea commune in Sen Monorom City district was among those who made the complaint against Mr. Sarom, he said.
“We inspected on Tuesday after the village, commune authorities and community claimed he had cleared a lot of forest in Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary,” Mr. Sopheak said. “I think he is trying to occupy the land for a plantation. He has already planted some cashew nuts.”
Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, a species-rich tropical forest spread over 292,690 hectares in eastern Cambodia, is recognized as a globally significant conservation area.
Mr. Sopheak said he visited the site twice, but never found anyone there. He would refer the case to the provincial court if the land was found to have been taken unlawfully, he said.
Reached yesterday, Mr. Sarom insisted he bought the land legally six years ago and denied that it fell within the protected area.
“I bought it from a village chief, but it’s a little bit outside the wildlife sanctuary,” he said.
“They exaggerated it. If I cleared the forest over many years, why have they only taken action now?”
Mr. Sarom was unable to confirm when he bought the land or how much he paid, and said he did not have any documents to prove ownership. He countered that other people were clearing the forest “day and night” and no action was taken against them.
Neither the commune chief nor Mr. Sam Eang, the provincial governor, could be reached yesterday for comment.