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Village patrols seize land-clearing tools

4 prey lang photo supplied
Members of a village patrol stand with a confiscated chainsaw and logs in Prey Lang forest last week. Photograph: Photo Supplied/Phnom Penh Post

Jarai villagers in Ratanakkiri’s O’Yadav district escalated the defense of their protected land this weekend, confiscating the keys and batteries of bulldozers owned by the Vietnamese company they claim has been illegally clearing the area, community leaders said yesterday.

The move comes after a number of protests in recent weeks at two villages in the district against a firm known as Company 72 that is working in an economic land concession area granted to conglomerate Men Sarun Co, Ltd.

Rocham Kham, a member of the forest preservation community of Paknhai commune’s Lom village, said that 30 villagers were patrolling the forest on Saturday when they came across seven vehicles razing their farmland.

“We asked them to stop and they stopped, but then they started again when we left. So we took away the keys and batteries to solve that problem,” he said. “We try to protect the forest land every day or our next generations will have no land.”

Lam village chief Sev Flin said the items were returned to Company 72 in negotiations between police, community members and company representatives on Sunday, with the company agreeing to delay clearing until provincial authorities act on the dispute.

In a similar vigilante move in Kampong Thom’s Sandan district, 50 community activists destroyed five chainsaws and confiscated 30 cubic metres of logged timber in Prey Lang forest before the weekend.

During three days of patrols from May 1 to May 3, activists claim to have witnessed approximately 400 cubic metres a day of illegally logged timber being transported from Prey Lang to the concession area of Vietnamese company CRCK, Prey Lang Community Network representative Hoeun Sopheap said.

Timber from Prey Lang is transported to the CRCK’s concession area in order to give it the pretext of legality, said Chim Savuth, public forum coordinator at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

“In fact, the company has already cleared the land they received [from the concession] and have nothing left,” he said.

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