Kampong Thom province
Villagers patrolling Prey Lang forest claimed yesterday that about 600 resin trees they found inside a sawmill in the Kampong Thom province had been cut down illegally – an allegation government officials quickly denied.
After resistance from police and soldiers monitoring their actions this week, the villagers, a group of about 500 patrolling on some 250 motorbikes, were granted access to the Seng Saravuth sawmill company in Sandan district’s Meanrit commune after requesting to see the company’s licence.
Villager representative Chum Yin said the group, which comprises villagers from four provinces, had been shocked to see hundreds of resin trees inside the sawmill they suspected had been illegally cut down.
“I was very sad when I saw all those resin trees inside the company – there was about 600 trees,” he said.
Seng Saravuth officials were not available to comment.
Ouch Sam On, deputy governor of Kampong Thom province, dismissed the villagers’ claims that the trees had been felled illegally.
He said Send Saravuth had a licence from the government to cut down the trees and “would not dare” to log illegally.
Sim Vanna, governor of Sandan district, said the company had a licence to operate in the forest until May.
“The company is operating legally because it has been granted a licence from the government,” he said.
Chum Yin, however, questioned why police and soldiers had blocked the villagers when they had tried to enter the property.
“Why have soldiers, police and military police come here to protect the company? There’s something illegal inside that they do not want us to see,” he said.
Before being let into the sawmill, villagers argued with police during a 20-minute stand-off, Chum Yin said. Ouch Sam On then granted permission for villagers to enter the site.
Oung Moly, police chief of Sandan district, said police had gathered only to “protect the security of the villagers”.
The villagers, from Kratie, Stoeung Treng, Kampong Thom and Preah Vihear provinces, began patrols on the weekend to protest what they said was the failure of authorities to prevent illegal logging.
They admitted on Tuesday to burning 364 cubic metres of timber, huts that “illegal loggers” had used and confiscating a chainsaw.
More than 30 companies have been granted economic or mining concessions in Prey Lang, which villagers say is contributing to the forest’s decimation.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at firstname.lastname@example.org