Members of a community in Preah Vihear province chased down a group of illegal loggers and briefly detained one of them yesterday, less than a week after the community accused the local wildlife sanctuary director of destroying their patrol station.
The trouble started yesterday when five volunteer patrollers from the Boeung Tonle Mrech community in Preah Vihear’s Rovieng district confronted seven suspected loggers in the forest. All but one managed to flee, said Huon Kea Nou, 41, a community representative for 154 families.
“Our community forest is being logged and encroached upon, so we try to patrol. And when they saw us they ran away, but we arrested one of them and [confiscated] a chainsaw,” Kea Nou said.
His detention didn’t last long. According to Kea Nou, the man said he was a hired worker, and after the community agreed to release him so he could invite his employer to meet the local residents, he left and never came back.
The action came after four community representatives filed a complaint to the provincial court on Thursday accusing Huy Sokun, the 43-year-old Boeung Pear Wildlife Sanctuary director, and his officials of “deliberate damages”.
Obtained yesterday, the complaint alleges that on January 7, Sokun ordered a team of authorities to demolish a wooden patrol station that the community built to help them monitor illegal logging.
At the time, according to the complaint, Sokun said the station was built on sanctuary land, but the community said the land belonged to them. They are also demanding $1,250 in damages.
“The officers threatened that if anyone dared to oppose, they would put us in jail without release,” part of the complaint says.
Lor Chann, the provincial coordinator of rights group Adhoc, said destroying the station was an actual offence, and he called on the court to investigate the case.
Responding to the allegations yesterday, Sokun admitted that the station was constructed on community property, but that the job was carried out by a handful of outsiders who did not have the interest of the locals at heart. Moreover, the location was reserved for the construction of a hospital and school, he said.
“The group is anarchic and what I did, I gained the approval from the authorities, but if I am summonsed, I will go,” he said.
The community has a total of 2,351 hectares of protected land, which was recognised by the government in 2011.