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Prey Lang villagers on patrol

Prey Lang villagers on patrol

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Kampong Thom province

About 500 frustrated villagers, citing the authorities’ inaction as their motivation, rode some 250 motorbikes into Prey Lang forest over the weekend in yet another effort to combat illegal logging they say is decimating the area.

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The villagers from four provinces surrounding Prey Lang – Kratie, Stung Treng, Kampong Thom and Preah Vihear – have vowed to continue patrols in coming days and to block a road used by rubber company CRCK if authorities don’t take action.

Villagers have said the government’s decision to grant CRCK an economic land concession in the forest has contributed to its decimation and threatened the livelihoods of people living in the area.

Soem Sean, a villager representative from Kampong Thom, said motorbike patrols would continue throughout the week.

“The reason we decided to do this is because the number of illegal loggers are increasing, but the authority has done nothing to stop these people. So we have to do instead of the authority,” Soem San said.

Villagers had already found about 50 cubic metres of wood, which they would give to provincial authorities as evidence, Soem Sean said.

“I am not afraid of being arrested, because I am not destroying the trees – I am protecting them,” he said.

Fellow representative Om Mich, 48, said the group planned to block the road to CRCK’s site in Meanrith commune, in Kampong Thom’s Sandan district, on Wednesday.

“We will block the road because we want to ask the government to find a resolution about this company’s activities. The way it is cutting down trees in Prey Lang is just anarchy,” he said.

“We are not forestry officers, but we are protecting the trees . . . otherwise, the young generation will not see them any more.”

Kampong Thom province police chief Phan Sopheng and  Sandan district police chief Oung Moly said no plans had been made to deploy police to the area on Wednesday, despite villagers having heard that about 100 officers would be patrolling the road.

When villagers carried out similar patrols last month, police criticised them for burning timber they found but no charges were laid.

Kampong Thom province deputy governor Ouch Sam On said yesterday villagers were required to report illegal logging to forestry officials.

“If they burn the timber like they have in the past, I will consider their activity illegal, because only forestry officers are allowed to do that,” he said, adding that he welcomed villagers who co-operated with his authority to crack down on illegal logging.

Chan Soeth, senior investigator for the human-rights group Adhoc, said some villagers depended on the forest for their livelihoods, but had not received support from the government at a local or national level.

As many as 100 containers of wood were being taken out of Sandan commune, in Kratie’s Sambor district each day, he said, while some illegal loggers were striking deals with local officials or had RCAF soldiers behind them.

More than 30 companies have been granted economic and mining land concessions in the forest.

To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]

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