Fishing Community Accuses Local Officials of Selling Off State Wetlands

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Residents protest an alleged sale of 120 hectares of state land in a flooded forest in Banteay Meanchey province’s Phnom Liep commune on July 19, 2021. (Supplied)

A Banteay Meanchey fishing community is preparing a complaint against local officials they accuse of selling off state-owned flooded forests.

Chhay Loeu, head of the Kambor fishing community in Preah Netr Preah district’s Phnom Liep commune, alleged the commune chief and other officials had sold 120 hectares of forests to private interests, affecting local fishing families.

“The complaint has already been prepared,” he said, but added that it would not be sent out to national and legal authorities until local officials had a chance to respond.

Phnom Liep commune chief Em Noy said he wouldn’t respond.

“I have no concerns, because I did not commit it as they’re accusing. I will remain silent. They can do whatever they want, as I did not do it,” Noy said.

Srong Troap said her husband, Sia Sokhun, had bought 15 hectares of the flooded forest in question, but said it was from an individual, Heng Hong, and not local officials. There were also three other buyers alongside her family in the transaction, she said.

“Heng Hong is the seller, and he sold it to address his living situation,” Troap said.

Heng could not be reached for comment. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ros Sophany said she was busy and could not respond.

More than 100 members of the community protested the land sale in late July, saying they have documents to prove that state-owned flooded forest had been sold to a couple living in the provincial capital, Serei Saophoan city.

Sum Chankea, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that preparing official complaints and lawsuits was proper procedure for an aggrieved community. It was one of the only avenues available to try to prevent the misconduct of some officials, he said.

Elsewhere in the country, business interests have been accused of using local residents as a means to acquire state land — first by having villagers occupy a protected area, then having local officials certify their habitation, then buying the rights to the land from the villagers.

Prime Minister Hun Sen last year ordered a mass privatization of state-owned protected areas for local occupants and poorer households; but in Koh Kong province, the first area to undertake the campaign on a large scale, over 120,000 hectares have been privatized but local families are incredulous about seeing any benefits.

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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