Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Authorities Investigate 300ha of State Land Illegally Cleared in Ratanakiri Province

Ratanakiri provincial authorities inspect the Toen reforestation area where illegal clearing was conducted by unknown people, January 2024. (Supplied)
Ratanakiri provincial authorities inspect the Toen reforestation area where illegal clearing was conducted by unknown people, January 2024. (Supplied)

Nearly 300 hectares of state land in Ratanakiri’s Kon Mom district have been illegally occupied by unknown encroachers as provincial authorities investigate to bring the culprits to justice. NGOs have raised concern that forest crime is becoming a serious issue again in the Kingdom. 

According to Ratanakiri deputy provincial governor Khan Chamnan, the land which has been cleared by anonymous people is state land, a reforested area in Toen commune, Kon Mom district. The illegal clearing is believed to have occurred early 2024 as the provincial authorities just received information about it. A team went directly to the field and found some recently logged trees located in the reforested area in Ratanakiri. 

“We don’t know the exact size of land that was cleared, but it seems large. [We estimate] 300 hectares, something like that. The area could not be measured by the provincial authorities because of the scale of the land occupation,” Chamnan said. 

Last week, the provincial authorities went to the field to inspect and stop any illegal land clearing, where they found more than 30 people illegally occupying the land. They have not been brought before the law yet as the officials continue to search for the “big fish” behind them. 

Chamnan said the provincial authorities came across small huts with fences built on the state land, with crops such as rice planted by the occupants. While land clearing activities have been suspended, investigations are ongoing to ascertain the people who are illegally occupying the forest area. Provincial officials are patrolling and have deployed rangers to monitor the situation. 

Trees were cut down in Toen reforestation area where state land was illegally cleared by unknown people, January 2024. (Supplied)

NGO rights group Licadho operation director Am Sam Ath told CamboJA that the illegal occupation of the state land has been a complicated issue in Cambodia for some time now. 

To prevent such serious issues from recurring in Cambodia, it demands strict enforcement of the law against encroachers. The punishment against those who are involved in forest crimes must be fair and transparent without any political agenda. 

“The law must be enforced on everybody, no matter how powerful they are. The authorities must take strict action against them as it would serve as a good example to others who imitate them in relation to forest crimes across the country. Similar to environmental activists being sentenced or arrested because they joined forces to protect natural resources, the same must apply to others,” Sam Ath added. 

The authorities have cracked down on citizens who have illegally occupied state lands to cultivate agriculture crops or plantations. However, he said, there is also a strong criticism over the lack of enforcement on individuals who are in power and occupy state land.

Sam Ath mentioned that the government has previously issued strict measures to prevent or crack down on forest crimes throughout the country. Therefore, the provincial authorities and relevant officials should not allow illegal encroachments to continue in the country as it destroys natural resources. 

Heng Kimhong, president of Cambodia Youth Network Association, told CamboJA that forest crimes “never went away” in Cambodia. It is still a serious issue and has badly impacted the environment. 

Kimhong said the government should be more aware about the environment and continue protecting the natural resources in the country. The officials should not be doing anything which destroys natural resources. Environmental activists have only one mission, which is to protect natural resources for the benefit of the country. “They aren’t against the forest.”

Kimhong said in relation to the illegal state land clearing in Ratanakiri, the relevant authorities should investigate to find out other people who are behind it, demanding that the law is strictly enforced against them with no bail or their crimes forgiven. 

There is only one approach which can solve such a complicated issue in the country, he said, and that is by enforcing the law in a fair manner. The officials should be concentrating on this as it has elicited high criticism in the past.