Salt Farm Owner Charged Over Allegations of Forest Destruction

By Phann Ana

the cambodia daily


kampot city – Kampot Provincial Court yesterday charged the owner of a salt farm with illegal encroachment and demarcation of state land and placed him in provisional detention for allegedly clearing state land that he claims as his own.

Pleng Thak, 69, was summoned to appear for questioning yesterday over allegations from the provincial fishery administration that Mr Thak destroyed 20.78 hectares of flooded forest in Toek Chhou district.

“He is charged with illegal encroachment and demarcation of state property,” said provincial prosecutor Chum Sambath.

Under the fisheries law of 2006, the charge carries maximum penalties of five years in prison.

Prior to his arrival at court, Mr Thak told reporters that he was innocent of the allegations and was only maintaining his farmland, which he said was not located on state property.

“I did not destroy the flooded forest,” Mr Thak said. “I only maintained my dike and didn’t cut the forest.”

His attorney Chan Huon said that Mr Thak was accused of cutting trees on his 24-hectare farm, which is part of a land dispute with prominent businessman Bun Baraing. Part of that farmland is claimed by Mr Baraing, and in December 2009 the provincial court awarded the land to the businessman. The case is now subject to an appeal.

In March, penal police at the Interior Ministry detained Mr Thak and his wife following a complaint from Mr Baraing alleging that the two were building dams and dikes on the disputed land.

Mr Huon said that the court had incorrectly labeled the disputed land as forested state land.

“The arrest of Pheng Thak put blame on him to weaken his activity in protecting his legal property,” Mr Huon said. “If they were so concerned, why didn’t they warn him first?”

After Mr Thak was charged, Mr Sambath, the prosecutor, denied that the disputed land is being confused with state forest, as the two were separate issues.

Mr Baraing could not be reached for comment yesterday. Investigating judge and provincial court president Kam Chhean declined to speak to reporters after the questioning.


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