Mondulkiri provincial environment officials are working to identify loggers who a Bunong indigenous community accused of clearing nearly 100ha of community forest in Koh Nhek district’s Rayum commune.

The cleared land was measured on September 16 and 17, in the presence of the community leader.

Environment department director Keo Sopheak said on September 18 that he instructed rangers in the district to inspect the location as soon as he received the complaints. He said it was not yet clear how much land had been cleared, but said the case would be referred to court.

“We measured the cleared land, but the loggers were not present. Regardless, our team is working to identify the offenders and build a legal case against them,” he added.

Lin Mai, leader of the indigenous community, said on September 18 that he and other members of the community had conducted patrols of the forest last week and found two cleared places, each of which was no less than 30-40ha. The logged timber looked fresh, he noted.

Mai said community members had just restarted their patrolling after a period when they were busy with other tasks.

“Apparently, the logging had just occurred, but we do not see any suspects or a camp. The forest is dense, and if they sleep far from where they are felling trees, it may be very difficult to locate them,” he said.

Mai added that the community land is 5,000ha and consists of 80 households. The community wants to preserve the land so that new generations would know the culture, customs and lifestyles of the Bunong indigenous people. New generations will also rely on the forest to build houses and make a living, he said.

“My community consists of a spirit forest, a cemetery, reserved land and forest land that could be cultivated,” he added.

Kreung Tola, adviser to Bunong indigenous communities in Mondulkiri, said that in his observation, law enforcement officers in the province sometimes appeared to employ double standards. Generally, people who logged a small amount of timber were prosecuted and jailed by the authorities, while they turned a blind eye to wealthy powerful people’s larger operations.

“I’ve heard officials saying that they could not find the loggers. It’s possible that they didn’t even go to check themselves,” he added.

Sopheak of the environment department said officials are always striving to do their best, but noted that the limited number of rangers available makes it difficult to cover such a vast forest.

He emphasised that environmental officials would immediately respond to specific complaints, and would attempt to solve any case they discovered.