The Poutil ethnic community members from Busra commune in Mondulkiri province’s Pichreada district handed two men to district police for further action on Thursday, after they allegedly cleared many hectares of forest in their community.
However, the men have since been released after questioning.
Community representative Srang Soeun said the forest in their community, in the commune’s Buon village, has been cleared for cultivation by migrants from Kampong Cham, Tboung Khmum and Stung Treng.
Before the arrest, community members were patrolling the forest when they found the two – Oul Kosal, 24, and Ream Thy, 27 – clearing many hectares of forest in the community.
“We caught them and seized evidence, including a chainsaw and two machetes, a coil of rope and a motorbike. The men were handed over to district authorities along with the evidence for further action,” Soeun said.
He said the two suspects are migrants from Kampong Cham and Tboung Khmum provinces.
The pair was also previously caught for clearing the community forest. This was last year, but they were only warned against repeating the offence.
Kosal’s brother, Oul Thy, said before clearing the forest they had verbally requested a social land concession from local authorities but had no legal documents or written permission for the logging.
“We just want the land for a house and farming because we are poor and cannot afford to buy land,” he said.
Pichreada district police chief Ton Yen confirmed that the two suspects were arrested by Putil community members for illegally logging the forest.
Buon village chief Chet Chris and Busra commune chief Yoeut Sarin also acknowledged that the pair had asked for a plot to build a house and cultivate crops as they were poor.
“They were caught red-handed while clearing the forest using a chainsaw,” Yen said, adding that after the village and commune chiefs’ acknowledgement, the pair had since been released and had been asked to thumbprint a letter promising to stop repeating the offence.
Poutil community chief Sroe Chheunh said local authorities have no right to cede community forest land to an individual because it is reserved for the next generation of the ethnic community.
“Our community will probe the release of the two suspects to find out whether they really are poor and homeless. They should request a social land concession from the government, not our community forest land,” he said.