Some 1,200 hectares of flooded mangrove forest in two communes of Kampong Cham province have been bulldozed and filled in, robbing more than 700 families of the long-standing source of their livelihood, villagers there said yesterday.
Villagers in Tuol Snuol commune in Kroch Chhmar district and Rokap Pram commune in Tbong Khmum district said that the land had been filled in on the orders of Sim Kosal, a representative of Tabao Rubber Plantation, which local authorities insist was given the land legally.
“The villagers will be arrested if they log in the flooded area, but no one dares to react against Mr Kosal,” said villager Chhean Chany, 49, from Rokap Pram, adding that locals depend on the forest for watering their cattle.
Fellow villager Met Sarmun, 60, maintained that his village chief, Uk Pang, and two community leaders, Nam Sean and Chim Sreang, collected thumb prints from villagers to ask their permission to build a small dam to create a reservoir for irrigation and fishing.
“Using our thumb prints, they said we agreed to allow Mr Kosal to clear the forest,” Sarmun said. “Now the people who do not have land to grow crops and depend only on fishing, they are jobless.”
Leng Lang, 30, a villager in Tuol Snuol commune, said that the clearing “stopped for a moment before the national election, but after that they continued”.
Hul Sophal, director of the NGO Vigilance Organization in Kampong Cham province, said that he had explained to villagers the legal procedures of lodging a complaint to authorities, but they had yet to file one.
Kosal and Tabao Rubber Plantation could not be reached for comment yesterday, but village chief Uk Pang maintained that the land was granted legally, and that villagers were unaffected.
“It is flooded land where no one does work,” he said. “The farming land of the villagers is above that area. It does not affect anyone.”
As for the small dam, he said, the company is currently building a four-kilometre dam that is halfway to completion.