Villager Fined for Tonle Sap Flood Land Encroachment

Fisheries officials in Banteay Meanchey province’s Sambuor commune said yesterday they had fined a local villager on Monday for plowing in a protected area in the floodplains of the Tonle Sap lake and briefly impounded a tractor.

However, villagers denied the area was protected, saying they had been farming the land for decades.

Ly Veng, provincial chief for the Fisheries Administration, said a villager had been fined $750 on Mon­day for plowing in Mongkol Borei district three weeks ago, adding that an impounded tractor had since been returned to the villager.

“The area is lowland linked directly to the Tonle Sap, and it is the main area of flooded forest for fish to release their eggs and it’s bio-diverse with all kinds of aquatic species,” he said. “Those villagers just cleared and plowed the flooded lowland for land encroachment.”

Mr Veng said the operation was part of annual efforts by fisheries officials to protect the natural environment of the floodplains, which are inundated for three months a year during the wet season.

He could not confirm whether the legal action was part of recent efforts by the government to prevent large scale agricultural reservoirs and farmland from being established in the lake’s floodplains.

In recent years, farmers and businesses have turned tens of thousands of hectares of former wetlands and flooded forests into farmland, but the government has now ordered the demolition of 16 large reservoirs in Kompong Thom province alone and officials are under orders from Prime Minister Hun Sen to stop further land conversion in the five provinces around the lake.

Villager Lon Bou, 49, said fining villagers and confiscating tractors was unfair to residents of Sambuor commune, as they had been farming rice in the area, covering around 100 hectares, since the 1980s.

“We have sufficient evidence to prove there’s a [large area] of rice paddy we have been farming here,” he said. “We have been stopped from farming since last year. If we dare to farm we have our tractors confiscated.”

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