The Forestry Administration fined 16 ethnic Tumpoun villagers $400 each for allegedly logging within the Yak Oum tourism site in Ratanakkiri’s Lumphat district on Wednesday, said Chhay Thy, an investigator for the rights group Adhoc.
The villagers were accused of logging after clearing a patch of forest for slash-and-burn agriculture, and “had no intention” of selling the wood, he said.
“It is a custom for ethnic Tumpoun to clear [land] for their family agriculture; their lives depend on this crop,” he said.
Villager Sok Khet, 48, said the villagers – who had cleared about one hectare each – were not aware the area was part of a tourism site.
“The area has [just] been made a tourism site,” he said.
Fellow villager Noun Choa, 40, said that local authorities should have informed villagers of the change.
“We have no intention to destroy our forest,” he said. “We will not affect the tourism site.”
However, deputy provincial FA chief Phan Phoeun maintained that the area had been designated a tourism site for some time.