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Hundreds Protest Alleged Sale of Forest

Nearly 300 people gathered in the provincial capital of Bantey Meanchey province Friday to protest the alleged sale of national forest land by local officials.

Human rights officials and witnesses said Friday that about 300 people gathered in front of the Thmor Pouk commune office in Thmor Pouk district to demand 215 hectares of national forest be protected, following its reported sale to businessmen in Phnom Penh by the former district governor and a commune chief.

Villagers said they needed the land, in Phnom Preah National Forest, for their livelihoods.

Current Thmor Pouk District Governor Chhum Brasert said Friday he was unaware of the sale of the forest land, as he only recently began his post.

Former Thmor Pouk governor Chhim Bunny denied allegations he had sold off part of the national forest.

He welcomed the protest of the people, saying such petitioning for the protection of forest land was "right."

So Samon, director of the district forest administration, said Friday he would investigate the allegations of the sale.

The Phnom Preah National Forest covers two districts, he said, Thmor Pouk and Preah Neat Preah, and spreads over about 18,000 hectares.