Some 200 hectares of forest in Ratanakkiri’s Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary have been cleared and sold for up to $400 per hectare – allegedly with an official’s blessing – while an additional 700 hectares around the protected area face clearing.
This case comes on the heels of the 1,000 hectares of forest that were allegedly logged at the Phnom Nam Lyr Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri late last year.
The land in question is located at the border between Kaleng and Chey Uddom communes in Lumphat district. After the land was cleared by Kaleng villagers, it was sold to a land broker, with Kaleng commune chief Sut Som allegedly signing off on the sale, said Pen Bonnar, senior land investigator with the logging monitoring NGO Adhoc.
Som, who couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, was one of seven officials sued last year by Bonnar and two villagers for allegedly neglecting to prevent the clearing of nearly 5,000 hectares of protected forest.
The land in the recent case was allegedly sold for $350 to $400 per hectare to the broker, who in the past has allegedly acquired land in the area. However, Bonnar declined to identify the broker.
“It is a totally corrupted system,” he said. “No law permits logging and the commune chief to sign [off] on the sale of hundreds of hectares of land located in the sanctuary. This is the sale of state land illegally.”
Additionally, some 700 hectares of forest in the vicinity of the wildlife sanctuary are being logged for luxury and first-grade timbers, such as sokrom, kor koh and koki, Bonnar said.
A community member speaking on condition of anonymity alleged the person who bought the land used machinery to clear the land in March. He said villagers tried to stop it to no avail.
He added that of the 200 hectares, about half were completely cleared, 40 had been ploughed and another 60 are currently being cleared.
“They cleared from one place to another,” he said. “First, the people of Kaleng commune logged and sold the land [and] authorities ignored it.”
Chea Samang, in charge of protected areas at the Ministry of Environment, said the provincial environment department would be the body to investigate these kinds of claims, and depending on the findings, take any legal action. However, he didn’t know whether the Ratanakkiri environment department was aware of this case.