Members of the indigenous Bunong tribe and civil society organisations on Wednesday filed a complaint against local authorities in Mondulkiri for illegally clearing 300ha of protected forest.
The cleared land is located in O’Raing district’s Pou Les village.
Adhoc official Pen Bunna, Bunong representative Kroeung Tola, and six others filed the complaint on Wednesday accusing five local officials of illegally clearing 300ha of hectares of forest and destroying rare plants and wildlife in an area known as Tuol Svay, inside the Nam Lea Wildlife Sanctuary.
The defendants – village representative Uth Simath, former Dak Dam commune chief Sam Vanny, Nam Lea Wildlife Sanctuary director Vuth Sarom, and O’Raing district governor Siek Mony – deny the allegations against them.
The plaintiffs asked the court to seize thousands of hectares of cleared forest as state property and to take action to restore the lost flora and fauna.
Tola said Tuol Svay used to be a lush forest brimming with rare flora. Beginning in 2013 and continuing to this day, thousands of hectares of it has been cleared.
There was a dispute between Simath and Mony involving the 300ha, and Simath accused Mony of being involved in clearing 10ha of forest land.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of thousands of hectares of forest, exotic plants, and endangered wildlife because officials are pursuing their interest,” said Tola.
He said the land cleared by the officials sustained the livelihoods of thousands of members of the Bunong tribe, who used it to grow vegetables and medicinal herbs and raise cattle.
Filing the complaint was their last hope to stop the damage, Tola said, adding that many villagers were reluctant to take action because they fear being targeted by the authorities.
Mondulkiri provincial court spokesman Meas Bros said on Thursday that the complaint has been received and is under review.
On Thursday, Mony denied he was involved in grabbing and clearing the 300ha of forest and said he will go to court to defend himself.
“I only took office in 2017, but the conflicts dates back to 2013. How is it possible that I conspired to grab this land? The accusations are baseless,” he said.
Sarom could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Bunna, who works for Adhoc’s local community empowerment programme, urged the authorities to take action to stop deforestation and to recover the flora that has been lost.
“This complaint is an example of local communities taking action to eliminate corruption and the illegal exploitation of state-owned property,” he said.