Member of the Prey Lang Network said yesterday that Ouch Sam On, the deputy governor of Kampong Thom province, had told them he would not be responsible if they were shot while protecting Prey Lang forest.
Kim Cheng, 50, a member of the network, said villagers would not obey an order to stay out of the forest and would continue patrolling for illegal loggers.
“Ouch Sam On threatened villagers and told us we were not allowed to patrol anymore,” he said.
“Maybe he is cooperating with businessmen who are illegally cutting trees, so he is afraid our patrols will expose his interest.”
More than 30 companies have been granted economic land or mining concessions in the forest, which covers 3,600 square kilometres in four provinces in the country’s north, and villagers say illegal loggers regularly cut down trees for luxury timber.
Villagers want to protect the forest and end the “anarchy”; however, the deputy governor had refused to take responsibility if the villagers were shot doing so, Kim Cheng said.
“What they seem to be doing is abandoning villagers and trees in order to protect businessmen.”
Chheang Vuthy, a villager representative, said the commune chief, district governor and provincial governor had threatened to arrest villagers who defied the ban.
“They care only about the companies’ interests. We care about the trees, so we still keep doing our action.”
Ouch Sam On denied the accusations, saying villagers had entered the forest to burn trees cut down by companies licensed to do so.
“Two times already we have banned them, because they have burned companies’ property and other villagers’ property. We need to protect the trees, companies who are licensed to work in the forest and villagers,” he said.
Villagers and members of the Prey Lang network outraged police by burning 40 cubic metres of luxury timber on February 8, the Post reported. No charges were laid.
Chut Wutty, director of the Natural Resources Protection Group, said authorities were not working for the interest of local villagers.