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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ratanakkiri villagers wage war on perfidious loggers

Ratanakkiri villagers wage war on perfidious loggers

ratanakiri.jpg
ratanakiri.jpg

Rampant illegal logging in their community has driven the residents of Kachon village,

in Ratanakkiri's Veun Sai district, to extreme measures.

Logging in the forests around Kachon village in Ratanakkiri's Veun Sai district was halted on January 17 by angry villagers barracading access routes to the local sawmill.

On January 17, the Kachon community, frustrated by a string of broken promises from

a series of different logging companies, blocked access routes to the local sawmill,

confiscated sawn timber, and demanded that the current company make good on the promises

of its predecessor.

"The community were promised a new road [by the logging company] but this has

never materialized," said Ha Sinan, chief of Kachon commune. "They don't

trust the company's promises any more."

On November 4, 2005, Ty Sokun, chief of Forestry Administration, granted the Ly Chhuong

Company a licence to log in Kachon for one year. Ly Chhuong then subcontracted the

Heng Brothers Company to cut, saw and transport luxury-grade timber from the area

to Phnom Penh for the new National Assembly building.

In return for the community's cooperation with the logging, the Heng Brothers promised

that they would build a new road and bridge in the area. They built neither, said

community representative Phuoy Tan of Kachon village.

"Our community has protected the forests in the area for a long time but we

agreed to allow logging to help build the new National Assembly," he said. "In

return we were told our area would be developed. But they have not provided what

they promised, so now we stop the company from taking wood out."

Not only did Heng Brothers fail to provide a new road and bridge, but they illegally

logged timber on such a large scale that Heng Samrin, president of the National Assembly,

wrote that the National Assembly would no longer purchase timber from the company

in a letter dated November 5, 2006.

The National Assembly purchased just 257 cubic meters of luxury-grade hardwood from

Heng Brothers, yet local police records indicate that over 700 m3 of wood was transported

out of the province.

Though the Ly Chhuong company's permit to cut wood expired in November 2006, the

company subcontracted Seang Leang Chhun to collect any remaining pre-cut wood, saw

it, and transport it to Phnom Penh.

But the Kachon community, already angered by the illegal exploitation of their forests

by the Heng Brothers and the lack of any new road or bridge, have now turned on Seang

Leang Chhun's company and are demanding what they consider their due.

"If Seang Leang Chhun's company does not agree to our proposals then we will

not let them take wood out of the village," said community representative, Sok

Phorn of Kachon village. "We will cut trees and put them on the road to stop

their trucks leaving. This is our way of protesting."

On January 17, when Seang Leang Chhun's company brought seven trucks to begin collecting

cut timber from the jungle, sawing it, and moving the sawn timber out of the province,

the community put tree branches across the entrance to the sawmill and confiscated

1.7 m3 of sawn wood.

Seang Leang Chhun says their reaction is unjustified.

"We are collecting the remaining wood in the jungle which has not yet been sawn

and taking it to the saw mill," she said. "We have not cut any new wood.

We just want to get the wood from the jungle on which we have already paid tax. I

am confused by the people who protest against our company's work [as] it was the

previous company who promised them a road. I am committed to filling these promises

but we are also victims."

The villagers want the company to cease its operations as they are wary of its claim

to be collecting pre-cut wood from the jungle, said commune chief Ha Sinan.

"They are not selling [the wood] to the National Assembly, they are selling

it privately," he said. "The community is right to protest as the company

does not have a valid permit to cut and transport wood any more."

But local Forestry Administration officials say the Seang Leang Chhun is in the right.

"The previous company [Heng Brothers] promised all the benefits to the villagers,

but now they have gone" said So Lano, an official of the forestry administration

in Veun Sai district. "Now, [Seang Leang Chhun's] company wants to do what the

previous company promised - but the villagers demand more. The people in this community

do not have the right to stop the company's operations - and sometimes people enter

the sawmill area to take wood without permission. This is wrong."

Another Forestry Administration official, who declined to be named, said that Seang

Leang Chhun had the law on her side.

"[Seang Leang Chhun's] company has stopped cutting the wood since June 26 2006,"

he said. "What the company is doing now is collecting the cut wood from the

jungle and sawing it [and it is] wood that they have paid tax on. The people are

wrong to try to stop the company from taking this wood out."

The Forestry Administration gave the company a permit to cut wood in two stages -

first, cutting wood, and second, sawing wood and transporting it. Even though the

company's cutting permit has now expired, it still has the right to collect the remaining

wood in the jungle and to saw and transport it, said the chief of Voun Sai district

Forestry Administration. Sao Vanny.

"There is about 526 cubic meters of [unsawn] wood in the jungle," he said.

"Only after the company has collected all the remaining wood and sawn it and

transported it - then its permit is totally finished."

On January 19, the community, Seang Leang Chhun, local authorities and Forestry Administration

officials met to try to resolve the conflict.

Seang Leang Chhun's company agreed to build one bridge, repair 3 km of road, build

a meeting hall for the village, and repair any damage caused by their transporting

wood out of the area. They also offered to pay two million riel ($500) to get the

confiscated wood back. The community are demanding $1,500 to return the wood, and

maintain that the road must not just be repaired, but rebuilt to a higher standard.

After three hours of negotiations, they failed to agree.

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