A senior Adhoc official and nine community representatives yesterday filed a complaint at the Ratanakkiri Provincial Court against seven local officials they allege have turned a blind eye to illegal logging at the Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary.
According to the complaint, a group of about 30 people on June 22 and 23 were patrolling the protected area when they discovered some 800 hectares that had been cleared.
The complaint accuses the village, commune, district and provincial officials of not taking timely action on illegal forest crimes inside the sanctuary in Lumphat’s Seda commune.
Pen Bonnar, a senior land and natural resources investigator at the rights group Adhoc, said similar complaints have been filed in the past, but little has been done.
“We hope that the court will [act] independently and follow the rule of the law,” he said. “We hope that this can protect the natural resources in Cambodia for the next generation.”
The complaint says that local officials have been tasked with protecting the state land but that people continue to clear the forest. At the same time, it says, officials also accuse community members who are in fact protecting the area of being behind the illegal activity.
On June 28, the Lumphat working group and relevant authorities held a meeting with about 200 community members in Samut Kram village asking them to report any clearing, with attendees faulting authorities for failing to investigate on their own, according to the complaint.
Phon Khemerin, director of the Ratanakkiri Provincial Department of Environment, named in the complaint, refuted the accusation.
Khemerin said his department about three weeks ago discovered some 50 families living inside the sanctuary who had started to clear land to occupy, but the activities were halted.
He said the cleared land was minimal, with only a few plots of land encroached upon. He said he immediately informed the provincial governor and the environment minister of the activities.
The families were educated about the illegality of their actions and were told not to come back, he said. “They dislike us [for] trying to protect the area,” he said. “They don’t follow the law.”
Officials are now looking for the traders who persuaded the families to illegally move there, he added.
“We got some info,” he said. “We are starting to investigate.”After the investigation is concluded, officials will also take the case to court, he added.