Amid alarming land speculation in Siem Reap province, the Forestry Administration is threatening to confiscate some 7,000 hectares of land that has been claimed by the rich and powerful, a high-ranking forestry official said.
A four month investigation conducted by forestry officials has shown that 6,925 hectares of forested land has been encroached upon in Banteay Srei district and staked out by businessmen and high-ranking governmental officials, said Vann Sophanna, chief of the Forestry Administration’s Northern Tonle Sap Inspectorate.
Forestry officials have given the land claimants three months, starting June 1, to present ownership documents—otherwise their properties will be confiscated and set aside as forestry reserve, Vann Sophanna said.
He blamed district and commune officials in Banteay Srei district for signing land deals that illegally sold chunks of protected forest land.
“That forested land belongs to the state, they cannot own it,” Vann Sophanna said.
The cost of a hectare of land in Banteay Srei district has risen from $2,500 to $10,000, he added.
Uon Vong, Banteay Srei district governor, acknowledged last week that he had signed some documents related to land sales but maintained that they were related to local villagers selling their own land. Uon Vong denied it was forested land.
Of the 8,000 hectares of land surveyed in Banteay Srei district, 1,075 hectares are farms and villages. However, a further 6,925 hectares of forested land has been staked out by about 250 businessmen and officials, Vann Sophanna said.
Duong An, Khnar Sandai commune chief, said Sunday that villagers would protest if forestry officials tried to take their land.
According to Vann Sophanna, an estimated 43,000 hectares of forested land has been staked out for sale since October 2004 in Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap, Oddar Meanchey, Kompong Thom and Preah Vihear provinces.
In April, Prime Minister Hun Sen urged the rich and powerful to give up forested land they had acquired illegally or encroached upon, warning they would face legal action.