About 40 Prov farmers gathered outside Stung Treng provincial court yesterday to show support for the latest resident of their village to be questioned over allegations of illegally clearing forest. Moeurn Vuthy, a representative of the group, said they feared the 40-year-old farmer, Bien Ry, would be arrested or detained.
After he was questioned, Bien Ry expressed surprise. “I’ve farmed the same land for more than a decade and never had a complaint from authorities, but this year forest rangers banned me from farming,” he said.
Five farmers from Chrob village in Sesan district’s Kbal Romea commune received court summonses last month, following a complaint in June from the commune forestry officials accusing them of illegally
clearing forest. Ho Sam Ol, an investigator with the rights group Adhoc, said the farmers were following traditional farming practices, by which they rotate their crops to new fields each year. “If their traditions put them in conflict with new laws, officials should explain the laws to them,” he said. Provincial deputy prosecutor Chea Pich was less sympathetic. He said he would begin questioning commune and village authorities to determine whether the farmers were village residents.