The Bunong Indigenous community in Sen Monorom commune, in O’Raing district, Mondulkiri province, has claimed that big trees within the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary have been secretly bulldozed.
But the authorities said the bulldozing was to build a road with permission from the district and provincial authorities.
Andong Kraloeng community Forest Committee Deputy Head Sokha Thot told The Post on Wednesday that 17 community members had patrolled the forest, spotting two pieces of machinery clearing land in the sanctuary.
“This bulldozing was not informed to the Andong Kraloeng village chief and the community head. I asked the foreman of the bulldozer why the land is being cleared because the village and community chiefs don’t know it.
“But the foreman answered that I had to ask his boss and that we are not allowed to take photos,” Thot said.
He said on Tuesday the 17 members arrived at the location and it had been bulldozed. But the machinery was removed from the location because their second field visit became known to the commune authorities.
The Sen Monorom commune authority later claimed that the bulldozing was to build a road only and a proper request was made to the district and provincial hall, Thot said, adding that the commune authority told the community members the bulldozing was within the sanctuary and it was up to the sanctuary’s head to solve it.
“I don’t understand how the road is to be built. They bulldozed the land towards a waterfall and a mountain.
“They said the land is being bulldozed to void big trees. But it is not like that because the location is not a forest [without big trees] – it is all big trees. The bulldozing affects everything,” Thot said.
He emphasised that the land that was cleared was 4m wide and 5km long and borders the community land. The location was jointly patrolled by the community and environment officials.
Besides, the community spotted thousands of markers planted, seemingly surrounding the location to occupy the land.
He said the community wanted the authorities to seize the bulldozed land as state property.
Sen Monorom commune chief Thvan Trel said the bulldozing activities were known to the head of the wildlife sanctuary. She said it is to build a road for residents leading to a plantation in their wildlife sanctuary without affecting the forest.
“They are just building a road and they haven’t bulldozed the land very much. The community keeps acting like it’s surprised. They bulldozed the land three years ago and bulldozed the land for only a one-car track to enter the plantation. Now, they have finished the project,” she said.
Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary head Prum Vibol Ratanak said he had not yet arrived at the location to check on the bulldozing. But he said that the village and commune chiefs claimed the location is farmland belonging to approximately nine families.
“To tell you the truth, my people are a small number and busy working. “[We] have not yet arrived at the location. I phoned to ask the commune chief about the land to confirm that it is not within the Andong Kraloeng village.
“Residents have relied on the land for their livelihood within the wildlife sanctuary. They planted big cashew trees already and some were planted as long ago as 1998,” he said.
Mondulkiri Provincial Hall spokesman Sok Sera said bulldozing the land to build a road was part of the provincial hall’s project.
“We repaired the old road which was left behind since the French colonial era,” he said.
He added that a groundbreaking ceremony for the road was attended by Mondulkiri provincial governor Svay Sam Eang. But he doesn’t remember the length of the road.