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Ethnic minority forest being gutted: activists

A Prey Lang forest community activist inspects a section of Prey Lang forest after it was cleared in 2014.
A Prey Lang forest community activist inspects a section of Prey Lang forest after it was cleared in 2014. Heng Chivoan

Ethnic minority forest being gutted: activists

Half of a Kuoy ethnic community forest in Stung Treng province – for which villagers are seeking official recognition – has been logged in the past three years for private commercial gain, according to recently returned environmental activist twins Chum Hout and Chum Hour.

More than 400 hectares of the 810-hectare forest, which is part of the massive Prey Lang forest, have been cleared since 2013, Chum Hout said yesterday.

“Forest is being logged every day for sale with the collusion of the authorities. If there were no involvement from the authorities, they could not manage to log 400 hectares of forest,” he said, adding that “Most of the land is held by officials.”

Hout and Hour recently fled the country following the July murder of political analyst Kem Ley, but returned to the Kingdom on August 21.

Seven community members, representing 100 families, sued Anlong Kramuon village chief Yem Khem and Sre Russey commune chief Luon Nan in provincial court in 2013 for allegedly permitting forestry crime.

Than Vorn, 55, one of the seven complainants, also took issue with Nan’s decision to discontinue the process to get the forest designated as an official community forest for collective ethnic Kuoy use, thus opening the door to continuous illegal logging. Nan, however, maintains he derailed the project because provincial authorities refused to recognise it.

“The commune chief declared to end the plan, so the people began logging and clearing. If they did not collude with the bad people, loggers and clearers would not dare to do it. They logged and sold it to rich people. When problems happen, we ask them to solve it, but he instead protects those bad people,” Vorn said.

Nan yesterday denied he took part in any forestry crime, but confirmed he had been questioned several times in relation to the allegations – he is due to be questioned by the court again on September 15.

“I dissolved the community forest [plan] because the higher-level officials did not recognise it. One person who sued me also logs themselves. It is unjust for me,” he said.

Goldman Prize-winning activist Ouch Leng observed that the forest continued to be logged despite an order from Prime Minister Hun Sen to stop logging at a recent forum on environmental issues.

“The forest is still logged, especially Prey Lang. The declaration from the prime minister has no effect since his subordinates don’t listen,” he said.

“The timber traders all have positions in the government . . . The traders keep running their business and the shouter [Hun Sen] keeps shouting.”

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