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Jungle justice in Prey Lang

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Police have condemn­ed the actions of more than 100 villagers and Prey Lang Network re­presentatives who burned 40 cubic metres of luxury timber on Tuesday as they searched for illegal loggers in Prey Lang forest, but is unclear whether the group will face legal action.

Photo Supplied/Phnom Penh Post
Villagers burn about 40 cubic metres of luxury timber after discovering it in Prey Lang forest after their prayer ceremony on Tuesday.

Chhim Savuth, public forum coordinator for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said ethnic Kuoy villagers had scoured the forest for evidence of illegal activities after they had finished praying to its spirit to protect the area.

The group had found luxury timber from 13 duong chem trees cut into 435 pieces – about 40 cubic metres – and confiscated two chainsaws in an area of Kratie province’s Sambor district, he said.

Instead of handing the timber in to authorities, the villagers burned it.

“People don’t want to hand over that timber to the local authority, because they have had experience with the authority selling timber for its own benefits without leaving evidence,” Chhim Savuth said.

“This has made people lose confidence in the authority.”

Sambo district police chief Bun Chhoeun said the villagers should have given the timber to local authorities.

“They should have found ways to contact the local authority so we can confiscate it,” he said.

“Villagers have no right to burn the wood.”

The villagers’ actions could have destroyed evidence and caused a forest fire, he said.

Bun Chhoeun did not say whether action would be taken against the villagers.

It was also unclear who had cut the luxury timber.

Chhim Savuth said that if logging continued, the forest would be eroded within a few years and the government would be able to give away more land concessions, he said.

Duong Vannara, a member of the Prey Lang Network, said villagers had burned the timber as a lesson to illegal businessmen and because they had no way of getting it to police.

“We want to let them know that we don’t want to lose Prey Lang. It is our lives,” he said.

“We will continue to investigate the activity in this forest.”

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