Villagers Accuse Officials of Clearing Land in National Park

Human rights workers and villagers have accused community leaders in Sihanoukville’s Ream National Park of illegally selling more than 110 hectares of protected forest to private interests.

Since the beginning of the year, businesspeople have cleared protected forest in Prey Nop district, and now more than 60 residential homes have been built on the land, park director Nouv Karun said Tuesday.

“The unlawful selling and buying [of land] is widespread after a few people cleared the forest and grabbed the land earlier this year…. It is getting worse since the election,” Nouv Karun said. One developer has even claimed to have permission to build a market on the land, he added.

Kang Kong, a representative of local villagers, said Tuesday that he had sent a complaint asking district and commune officials to take ac­tion against those clearing forest inside the park.

“We’re seeking intervention from all concerned and involved officials to help confiscate the land,” he said.

In their complaint the villagers alleged that a community leader in O’Okhna Heng commune is openly selling protected land.

Contacted Tuesday, commune chief Kea Veau denied the villagers’ allegations.

“Some bad people just grabbed the protected forest and cleared the forest land,” he said before declining to comment further.

Deputy District Governor Nop Phean said the land in question is not protected forest but farmland and villages that have existed for years.

Nop Phean also said that 37 hectares of the land legally belong to a Phnom Penh businessman and a developer. He blamed villagers for illegally seizing that land and other adjacent property.

Nop Phean added he has asked the businessman, whom he did not identify, to donate 10 hectares of land to disgruntled villagers.

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