Jarai ethnic minority villagers in Ratanakkiri’s O’Yadav district are demanding compensation from a villager they claim illegally cleared a sizeable portion of their community forest this year.
The villagers seized two carts transporting rosewood – and the four buffaloes pulling them – out of the forest on Monday and are holding the load hostage until the logger agrees to pay a $1,300 fine.
The owner of the carts, Uk Kheng, 48, fled the village, according to the commune police chief. “[Uk Kheng] logged the forest four times already without any permission,” commune police chief Pouy Chroch said.
Provincial authorities have recognised the 481-hectare Jarai forest as belonging to the community since 2010, though villagers since then have been engaged in numerous land disputes.
“Up to four hectares of forest has been cut down by Kheng this year,” village chief Klan Chib said.
Kheng claims, however, that the logs, which he makes a business of selling, came from land near his plantation and not from the community forest.
“I run this business just to support my family’s basic needs. I get the timber only when the people order it to build small houses,” Kheng said.
He added that he cannot afford to pay the villagers’ $1,300 fee, which he sees as extortion.
“Police and the community took my logs because I never paid them any money,” Kheng said.
Villagers are threatening to eat Kheng’s buffaloes if he does not pay their fine.
Chhay Thy, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said loggers caught cutting the forest could face between five and 10 years’ jail time.
“Usually, those responsible for crime are never captured,” he said.