Villagers from forest communities in nine provinces called on the government yesterday to take action after alleging that “the rich and powerful” are causing the “serious destruction” of their livelihoods.
The villagers, with the support of two NGOs – the Children’s Development Association and Community Peace-Building Networking (CPN) – raised concerns over the destruction of their forests, which they said were being cleared by a combination of powerful local businesses, soldiers and the authorities.
Sorn Siyan, a community representative from Kratie province, said that seven community forests out of 11 registered since 2011, covering more than 21,000 hectares, have been completely cleared.
“The seven forests … were cleared and taken away by companies, the rich and the powerful, who colluded with the authorities,” he said.
“We, the local people whose lives are dependant on the forest, are now facing food shortages,” he added.
Sar Thlai, from Oddar Meanchey province, alleged that the authorities in Anlong Veng district had used volunteers to measure land for migrant families to be resettled, despite the community having registered the forest with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
A spokesman for the ministry declined to comment on the case yesterday.
“More than 2,000 [hectares] of a 6,344-hectare community forest was measured and felled. They cleared the forest, burning it down to plant rice. It is a registered community [forest],” Thlai said.
The migrants, he added, had also been employed by unknown persons to clear areas for individual locals.
Thlai is now preparing to file the evidence of illegalities the communities have collected to the Forestry Administration and the Anti-Corruption Unit.
Yim Phanna, Anlong Veng district governor, and his deputy chief, Nhem En, could not be reached for comment.
Smean Boreyroth, deputy director of CPN, said the authorities had a lot to answer for and should take action immediately to curb the illegal logging of community forests.
“The authorities barely take any action, while the forest offences happen a lot,” he said. “Every forest community has had their forests cleared and is confronting logging.”
Thon Sarath, deputy chief of the planning department at the Agriculture Ministry, called on the communities to notify the ministry when they believe their forests are being illegally felled by land concessionaires.
“The land concessions are granted in dead forest, so the community should inform the government about the legalities of their forest so we can protect it,” he said.
The ministry made a note of the names of “powerful persons” who are accused of encroaching on community forests and sent the list to provincial governors to investigate the cases, he added.