Activists in Kratie province’s Snuol district seized seven chainsaws over the weekend and collected evidence that four police checkpoints were used to solicit bribes from illegal loggers, representatives of the network said yesterday.
After scouring thousands of hectares of protected forest from Friday through yesterday, the evidence that 40 network patrollers uncovered showed significant evidence of illegal logging of three kinds of luxury wood in Ksim commune, said Sorn Siyan, a community network representative.
“Checkpoints were set up by the local police,” said Siyan. “The money that the illegal loggers had to pay was 20,000 riel for a cart per time, 50,000 riel for a truck and 15,000 riel per month for a chainsaw.”
Patrollers had returned the seven seized chainsaws to their owners after making them promise not to use them for illegal logging, he said, adding that complaining to authorities was futile.
Since 2003, when the government recognised the area as community forest, 2,459 hectares of that forest has been completely destroyed, and the remaining portion was threatened by powerful officials and newcomers, said Siyan.
Ksim commune police chief Or Seng denied that illegal logging was occurring in his area, asserting that all of the commune’s community forest already had been felled and that the remaining forest had been granted to a private company in a government concession.
“Both newcomers and local people cut down the forest, because they want to use that land for growing crops and housing,” he said.
As for the allegation that police had set up illegal checkpoints, Seng said that police indeed would stop travellers from other districts but maintained that money only changed hands when travellers wanted to pay 5,000 riel for cigarettes, and never to allow passage of logging equipment like chainsaws.
Chhem Savuth, an official from the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), which paid for the patrollers’ motorcycle fuel, said that CCHR would support another major patrol in the near future and burn any logging equipment found.
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