Some 100ha of flooded forest land in Battambang province’s Sangke district has been illegally logged and cleared in recent months, local community groups and the Fisheries Administration said on Wednesday.
The flooded forest land, situated the province’s Area 2 and Area 3, has been classified as a wetland area by the government and is protected as a mating area for fish, birds and other wildlife by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
The Area 2 and 3’s forestland stretches 206.849ha, but individuals and local authorities have recently begun clearing and logging the land to illegally expand their farmland.
The provincial fisheries administration director Chuong Sophea told The Post on Wednesday that clearing and logging have occurred across Sangke district in Kampong Preah, Kampong Prieng, Roka and Tapon communes.
“According to the investigation by our experts, flooded forest land in Area 2 and Area 3, which has been encroached upon to expand farmland illegally, is about 100ha, with 80ha of that in Area 3,” he said.
Provincial Agriculture Department director Chhim Serey Vichara said the government permits people to plant rice in Area 2, but only in specific locations. While in Area 3, cultivation is completely banned because it serves as a mating area for fish.
“At the moment, experts are investigating and identifying people logging and clearing forest land in Area 2 and Area 3 in order to prepare a lawsuit,” he said.
Serey Vichara said that according to the Fisheries Administration report, the most cleared and logged land is in Sangke district’s Kampong Prieng and Tapon communes. But, this was reduced after experts instructed local people and the authorities to report it whenever they witnessed illegal logging.
Sangke district governor Lom Som said farmers living in the area have planted rice in Area 2 and cleared Area 3 in recent months.
“Farmers and some public servants with land are cultivating in Area 2 legally. But during ploughing and clearing of the land for rice plantation, some of them also encroached on protected land in Area 3, as Area 2 and Area 3 are next to each other,” he said.
Chan Roth, a villager from Sala Trav village, told The Post that last week, a group of villagers from Sangke district’s Anlong Vil commune brought a tractor to plough 3ha of forest land in Area 3.
Locals then reported the culprits to the authorities who immediately prevented the logging from happening.
“Sometimes, the local authorities and experts cannot control the border of Area 2 and Area 3, so some people managed to illegally log and clear Area 3. In these cases, it mostly happens when the water rises up and recedes,” he said.