The Bunong indigenous people in Mondulkiri province have expressed concerns about deforestation in the Phnom Nam Lyr Wildlife Sanctuary after a forest community spotted machinery in an off-limits area and noticed markers planted in the surrounding land.
But an environment official claimed the machinery was being used to repair a road in the area.
Yun Lorong, the secretary of the provincial Bunong Indigenous People Alliance, told The Post on Wednesday that the machinery was found in Dakdam commune’s Pou Les village and that portions of the forest were secretly cleared.
“Besides the excavator, the community observed markers being planted throughout a vast section of land spanning hundreds of hectares. The markers are about 1km from the environmental protection headquarters,” he said.
Lorong sent pictures of the machinery to Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra, who then forwarded them to an environment official in the province.
Sanctuary director Vuth Sarom explained that the excavator was being used in the area because the provincial and district administrations had requested road repairs to make it easier for residents to travel and transport goods.
Sarom said the excavator was not used to clear forest as claimed by the community.
He maintained that the provincial and district administrations were authorised to repair the road leading to the sanctuary and that the markers belong to the villagers, not any tycoon as claimed.
On Friday, a Facebook post by Bunong’s Voice said the community was highly suspicious of a set of red-painted wooden markers they found in the sanctuary.
The community believed the markers belonged to a powerful tycoon with the honorific oknha.
Regardless of who owns the markers, Sarom said wildlife sanctuary rangers patrolled the area and removed them daily.
“The members are the ones to plant the markers and rangers from my side have removed them already. [We] remove 30 to 40 markers a day. We identify some. No one comes here but them,” he said.
O’Raing district governor Siek Mony said the provincial and district administrations had hired the excavator to widen a 40km-long road in the location, and about 200 families in the commune had registered their thumbprints requesting the repair.
Besides being used to clear the road for repairs, residents had also used the excavator to dig out soil from their ponds to increase their water storage while they encountered droughts, he said.
“Those complaining are not residents in Dak Dam commune, but in other districts, namely Pech Chreada district.
“Once before, I caught the residents digging soil in the wildlife sanctuary. It is the same group. They have always caused problems. They reported that I have hundreds of hectares of land. But they are the ones to take the land, no one else.”