The Mondulkiri provincial authorities on Sunday ordered the prevention of land and forest clearing in the protected Phnom Prich wildlife sanctuary in Koh Nhek district and neighbouring Lumphat wildlife sanctuary in Ratanakkiri province.
Provincial governor Svay Sam Eang said offenders had illegally cleared nearly 100 hectares of protected forest since before the July 29 national elections when the authorities were occupied with the polls.
Sam Eang said forest land around the sanctuary is limited to small-scale clearing for farming by villagers residing in the nearby area. Some villagers sold their land, he said.
“Over the past few days, I’ve ordered my officials to investigate. I’ve seen the news in the media that thousands of hectares have been cleared and that we are not paying attention to the issue.
“In fact, the authorities have visited the site. It’s less than 100 hectares,” he said, adding the offenders had not cleared the whole area.
“They had cleared only some parts . . . to expand farmlands. Now we’ve prevented it,” he said.
Provincial environment department director Keo Sopheak and Koh Nhek district governor Sin Vannvuth could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
Bil Dit, a villager in the district’s Royor commune, told The Post on Sunday that he had found several kinds of heavy machineries used to clear forest land in the protected O’Tahoch area in Royor Leu and Rovat villages. In some areas trees were being felled, he said.
“I don’t know the identities of those involved, but I saw three to four tractors clearing the protected forest land. I’m not sure if the authorities are aware of the issue, but there has been no action over the past few days,” Dit said.
Eang Mengly, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said he had received a report but had yet to visit the area.
Mengly said forest land clearing did occur in the protected areas but the authorities readily took action.
“It happened before the elections. There were traders buying small plots of land from villagers in the area."
“After the purchase, they want to expand their land so they cleared the nearby area too. If the authorities hadn’t been able to take swift action, the wildlife sanctuary would’ve been gone,” he said.