BUDDHIST monks supervising a community forest project in the Kampong Thom village
of Trapang Chom Bok allege that powerful interests are resorting to murder to seize
community land for an agro-business project.
Ly Khom, head of Trapang Chom Bok's Wat Vor Yeav, has linked the October 11 shooting
of Ou Yon, an activist with the Buddhist Development for Kampong Thom Association
(BFDK), to a land grab attempt by former Kampong Svay District Governor Ly Kam Say
in collusion with senior provincial government officials.
Athough police attribute the killing to a robbery attempt, an ongoing Adhoc investigation
into the killing has revealed that the assailants spent time burning BFDK documents
after the shooting and left two rings of Yon's by his body.
Khom told the Post the murder was only the most dramatic event in a three-month standoff
between local villagers and developers.
"We are small ants biting at elephants' feet," Khom said in reference to
efforts by local monks and villagers to resist attempts by developers led by Say
to create a cashew nut plantation on land decreed by the Agricultural Ministry as
"community forest" designed for environmentally friendly production of
food and products for local sale and use.
According to Khom, loggers employed by Say began cutting trees in the community forest
area after the issue of a letter dated August 5 and signed by the Minister of the
Council of Ministers, Sok An, authorizing Say to develop "spare forest areas"
for cashew plantation development.
Khom says the letter's key proviso, that the plantation development "not affect
the local people's livelihood" has been ignored, with almost half of the community
forest - 947 hectares - cleared of land and planted with cashew nut seedlings.
"Say has used Sok An's letter as a 'scare tactic', showing it to local people
to justify the clearing of the forest for his cassava plantation," Khom told
The effect of the land grab on the 346 affected families - including a community
of the Kuoy indigenous hill tribe who depend on the community forest for sustenance
- has been catastrophic.
Residents report that their ability to collect adequate amounts of the fruit, vines,
herbs and firewood on which their local economy depends has decreased exponentially
since tree-cutting began.
"This forest is our food supply," said villager Chun Bun Choeun of the
shrinkage in the community forest. "If they take [the forest], they should kill
In response to villagers' concerns, the Minister of Agriculture, Chea Song, signed
a letter dated September 21 ordering Kampong Thom provincial officials to cease all
forest clearing operations in the community forest areas.
Song's order has apparently fallen on deaf ears.
"They're continuing to clear the forest," Khom said, adding that he had
also been threatened by developers for criticizing the effect of the plantation project
on the villages community forest.
"We respect the law, but they are making the rules [in this situation] so they
In spite of a lack of Government support and the very real threat of physical violence,
Khom says he and his fellow monks and villagers are determined to salvage what remains
of their community forest.
"We are used to being cheated by development project officers who promised us
improved living standards but in fact delivered the opposite," he said. "We
don't want to be cheated anymore."
Post attempts to contact Say before publication were unsuccessful.