The Siem Reap provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said it will offer a 10 million riel ($2,500) reward to those who provide information regarding the suspects responsible for setting ablaze more than 20ha of kranhuong timber forest land in Banteay Srei district.
Department director Tea Kimsoth told The Post on Thursday that more than 20ha of kranhuong timber forest were secretly set on fire on Tuesday evening to lay illegal ownership of the land.
“Our specialist, as well as local authorities and residents in the communities, had been working to protect this forest since 2012. But offenders had burned the land in a blink of an eye.
“I will reward 10 million riel to anyone who can point us to the suspects,” he said.
Banteay Srei district deputy police chief Ros Sisovanna told The Post on Thursday that last year, more than 200ha of the kranhuong forests were completely cleared through burning. However, the culprits responsible had not yet been identified.
“In the case of this forest fire, we suspect that villagers who have houses and agricultural land near the area burned it secretly so that they could encroach on it.
“They must have wanted to expand their agricultural land, but we still have no evidence to present against them,” he said.
Seng Lorn, the chief of the Forestry Administration in the commune who led the operation to extinguish the fire on Tuesday, told The Post that authorities could not immediately gain access to the land due to the lack of roads in the area.
“We spent more than three hours to put out the flames. Because of the hot weather and the shortage in water supply, we don’t expect the burned kranhuong trees to recover until the rainy season,” he said.
Provincial Forestry Administration chief Mong Bunlim said the kranhuong timber forest area in the district covered 2,800ha, adding that the unprecedented fire was caused by people.
“Article 97 of the Forestry Law says that any person guilty of starting forest fires on purpose and without authorisation will face five to 10 years imprisonment,” he said.
Bunlim said the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries would gather residents and relevant departments at the beginning of the rainy season to replant kranhuong trees, which, in turn, would restore the forest.