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Accusations fly over logging of Battambang forest

A mass eviction in Battambang province yesterday saw 100 locals kicked out of the Prey Tralach community forest, which local authorities claim was illegally inhabited and deforested by villagers.

The villagers, however, blame a number of local officials for the illegal deforestation, while the officials yesterday denied they were involved in illegal logging.

It was not the first time local officials have been accused of being behind the 1,335-hectare forest’s destruction. Similar claims were made in 2012.

In 2012, officials intervened in the logging trade in Prey Tralach, saying that the villagers were working for local police and military figures.

Protesters at the site yesterday blamed a deputy in the district administration, Uk Kong, several local community leaders, officials and soldiers for the forest destruction.

“The officials allowed people to seize and clear the land. The village chief cleared the land for himself, and he helps the rich people who grabbed the community land,” one protester, Chrun Puth, said.

He added that about half of the forest has been cleared by the loggers.

After the officials allegedly began clearing the land several years ago, villagers moved onto the land, said Yin Mengly of local rights group Adhoc.

Battambang Provincial Governor Chan Sophal and District Governor Pich Malay declined to comment yesterday. Lay Sao, a former district councillor accused by the villagers, denied involvement in logging, as did the local Forestry Administration chief, You Phanhavoin.

An earlier version of this article reported that Uk Kong was a district governor allegedly responsible for illegal logging in Prey Tralach. He is actually a deputy director in the district administration.
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