Eight labourers hired by a private businessman to clear protected community forest land in Ratanakkiri were sent to provincial prison there on Thursday, officials said.
Phan Phouen, deputy provincial director of the Forestry Administration in the province, said that the eight “loggers” were arrested on October 30 after they razed 25 hectares of land in Teun commune a week before.
The police moved in after local residents reported the alleged acts to the authorities.
According to Phouen, a private businessman, whom officials are still searching for, hired the group to help make space for a rubber plantation in the area.
“The eight illegal loggers were sent to the provincial court today under the accusation of clearing community forest land, and now we are searching for the relevant businessman, whose identity we have,” he said, adding that he could not reveal the businessman’s name for fear that he would flee.
He just said that the man was wealthy, lived in Ta Orng village, and already owns a rubber plantation.
The workers, who were paid $125 per hectare, were still being questioned to help track down their one-time employer.
Tat Vong, Teun village chief, said that, in a meeting called to address the issue, he and the commune chief traded accusations of blame over allowing the clearing to proceed.
“We have tried to protect forest land for the community, but we are blamed that we interfere in their issue,” he said. “I think he [commune chief] gets benefits from this.”
Chamao Thang, Teun commune chief, declined to comment.
To contact the reporter on this story: Chhay Channyda at [email protected]