Hundreds of villagers in Preav Vihear’s Kulen district cut down a palm tree on Monday and used it to block provincial officials attempting to confiscate tonnes of luxury timber from their village, their representative said yesterday.
Ri Sothun, a spokesman for more than 400 families in Tbeng II commune’s Kdak village, said between 400 and 500 villagers – after hearing the sound of beating drums and other instruments at a local pagoda – rushed to help block the officials’ cars and trucks from leaving the area with seven cubic metres, or 128 pieces, of the timber.
“All the villagers were determined not to allow the trucks to leave the village, because they use the timber to build houses, make furniture and sell to traders in order to support their families,” he said.
Villagers considered the officials’ crackdown on their activities “inappropriate” and had impounded their vehicles without violence, he added.
“Previously, the villagers were allowed to fell trees without any problems from the authorities and sold the timber for $200 per cubic metre,” Sothun said.
Kulen District Governor Chum Puy said yesterday that after negotiating with the villagers, the officials had agreed to let them keep the timber in exchange for the return of their vehicles.
“Some of that timber has been pre-sold to a trader, but we have given it back in order to avoid serious confrontation,” he said.
Rather than pursue the issue with the villagers further, Puy said, the authorities would instead focus their crackdown on a businessman believed to buy luxury timber from the villagers.
But Lor Chann, provincial coordinator for rights groups Adhoc, said he doubted authorities would do that.
Authorities, he said, were only willing to take action against poor villagers who were trying to make a living rather than those who profited most from the trade.
“The authorities are not brave enough to intercept the rich and powerful companies behind the illegal logging,” he said, adding that the villagers had only been responding to unfair treatment against them.