A recent report by the Regional Community Forestry Training Centre (RECOFTC) said villagers living around Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary had recently reported illegal loggers in the forest and they took action by seizing some of the perpetrators’ chainsaws.
The area is protected by the government and the villagers have exclusive rights to its rattan, bamboo and other resources in exchange for their forest patrols.
In the May 5 report, RECOFTC describes threats facing the Mekong region and its people.
According to the report, the main threats are caused by illegal logging, agriculture and infrastructure development.
It said empowering community members to safeguard their interests in protected areas could become the norm.
The Ministry of Agriculture recently transferred the administration of large areas of forest to the Ministry of Environment, which administers community protected areas.
Community members patrolling their plots of protected land may work sometimes, but for some, it’s a risky proposition.
“While community protected areas have empowered people living near forests, some communities struggle to secure their rights when competing interests arrive intent on using forest land for mining or agriculture,” the report said.
It added that the situation can become dangerous for some, and not everyone can effectively file grievances when things go wrong.
The report said: “When large companies are involved, the imbalance of power can be stark.
“And in Cambodia and other Mekong countries, it is not easy for communities to complain because grievance mechanisms are absent, unclear or ineffective. Meanwhile, land and forest defenders often face threats and violence.”
Initiatives such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), an organisation which focuses on stopping deforestation and enhancing forest carbon stocks, and Forest Law Enforcement Governance Trade (FLEGT), an EU-based plan to reduce illegal logging, are establishing opportunities to better people’s access to grievance mechanisms, said the report.
An RECOFTC media advisory dated May 13 said 85 million people depend on Mekong forests to survive, and one third of them are indigenous to the area.
The advisory said the Mekong region shelters vast biodiversity and is essential to fighting the climate crisis.
The forests also help lower this risk of pandemics like Covid-19 and other zoonotic diseases, according to the advisory.
Ministry of Environment secretary of state and spokesman Neth Pheaktra could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
However, he was quoted on the ministry’s Facebook page early this month as saying that in April, 13 ringleaders and perpetrators involved in encroaching on several hectares of forest land in Biodiversity Conservation Corridors and wildlife sanctuaries in Phnom Prich, Srepok, and Keo Seima in Mondulkiri province were charged and detained by the provincial court.
Pheaktra said: “No one has the right to occupy, buy or sell land in protected areas. The Ministry of Environment asks citizens who are not well versed in the law to not allow perpetrators to deceive you and to immediately stop illegal activities such as clearing, burning, encroaching on forest land, building huts, and growing crops in protected areas.”
Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary was created by a sub-decree in 2016 and covers 372,971ha. The goal for the designation was to ensure the safety of wildlife, provide ecological care, produce products and natural services for sustainable use, and promote community involvement in the area.