A group of 31 villagers of the Phnong ethnic minority have filed a petition to Mondulkiri provincial authorities to demand the removal of the local environment department director after rangers allegedly torched their homes during a wedding in Sen Monorom district.
While the 22 families of Sokdum commune’s Laoka village attended a wedding on Thursday, a group of eight rangers burned down cottages and houses belonging to seven families, according to village chief Kleum Meul. His brother and nephew’s homes are among them. “They destroyed rice in the sacks, pots, mats, and other stuff. They abused us like they did in the Pol Pot regime,” he said.
Rangers accused the villagers of living in the protected area illegally, Meul said, adding that villagers had settled on the land several years ago under an agreement with then-environment minister Mok Maret.
Chhit Sophal, the director of the provincial environment department, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Samrang Dyvichet, Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary director, acknowledged that his rangers did burn some huts – but not houses – which he claimed were built two months ago.
“The huts were recently built and were set on fire on the recommendation from the provincial governor and the [Ministry of Environment],” Dyvichet said.
However, ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap said such action did not follow ministry policy.
If the villagers were found to be living on the land illegally, “we cannot go and burn those things down right away like that”, he said.
Provincial hall administrative director Hak Sophan said that Sen Monorom authorities had been asked to investigate.