Some 30 charcoal vendors in Oddar Meanchey province have signed a written contract agreeing to stop all charcoal-related activities in the Sorng Rukhavoan Wildlife Sanctuary area, a forest community representative said on Monday.
Rattanak Rokha forest community representative Smin Ty told The Post on Monday that 33 charcoal vendors, from Samrong commune’s Kon Damrei village, were asked by his community and Environment Department officials to stop burning wood and charcoal in or near the Sorng Rukhavoan or Rattanak Rokha community forests.
He said the charcoal vendors started making charcoal there late in 2017 and authorities had visited them and issued warnings several times, but they have never stopped their operations.
“We did not force or threaten them. We merely asked them to sign a written agreement promising to stop all charcoal activities. Right now the kilns are hot and cannot be removed, but when they cool down, they need to remove them from the area."
“We asked them remove their stuff and they agreed. They did not oppose us because we have already told them not operate in this line of business, but they carried on anyway,” Ty said.
Venerable Bun Saluth, the head of the Sorng Rukhavoan forest community, said he had personally talked to the charcoal vendors, who asked what other business they could run, and requested to continue operating.
He said the vendors, who come from other provinces, were unable to find another location. They cut down trees in Sorng Rukhavoan and Rattanak Rokha forests, he said, and use the wood to turn into charcoal to sell and support their daily livelihood.
“I have sympathy for them, but I don’t know what to do. If they don’t do business in the prohibited area, what other business can they do? They said they have nowhere to go. I don’t know what to do either,” Saluth said.
Provincial environment department director Phuong Lina could not be reached for comment.
One of the six environmental officers who asked the vendors to sign the agreement, who requested not to be named, told The Post the authorities did not threaten them.
The official asked them to agree to stop all charcoal activities in the area, because it is a protected area and wildlife sanctuaries are covered by royal decree.
He said illegal logging in the area was not conducted on a large scale, but there was a lot of illegal hunting of wildlife.
“The issue of hunting is difficult to tackle because they carry out their activities at night. Our team does not patrol at night time, but the offenders hunt at night,” the source said.
Sorng Rukhavoan forest spans three districts – Samrong, Anlong Veng and Chongkal – covering 18,261ha.
Rattanak Rokha forest covers 12,872ha in Samrong district’s Konkriel commune.
Both areas were registered as protected forests on May 4, 2009.
The Sorng Rukhavoan Wildlife Sanctuary, which incorporates the two forest communities, was established last year at the request of provincial authorities in response to the area becoming a hot spot for forestry and wildlife crimes.
Phuong Lina, director of the provincial Environment Department, said at the time that the area is home to “rare and luxurious wood and endangered animals”.