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.