Pursat provincial authorities have summoned representatives of protestors from four villages in Phnom Kravanh district’s Samrong commune to appear on Thursday.
They are wanted for questioning in regards to the setting up of a roadblock after authorities confiscated rice tractors loaded with luxury timber on Monday, said Phnom Kravanh district governor So Sahong.
Approximately 200 villagers on Monday blocked the road for more than two hours, claiming the authorities had unfairly enforced the law in confiscating the rice tractors. They also accused the authorities of double standards.
They said the police do not confiscate vehicles from traders who also transport luxury timber. Rather they allow them to buy timber from the villagers.
Sahong said the Pursat governor, Mao Thonin, summoned nearly 10 people to represent the protesters. Villagers said they were angry with the authorities for confiscating their rice tractors. They asked for the vehicles to be returned but the police refused.
The representatives will meet directly Thonin at the provincial hall on Thursday at 8am where he will attempt to find solutions to their demands.
“The people in that area often illegally fell luxury trees and sell them to middlemen, despite being prohibited from doing so by the authorities who are concerned about the loss of forests. However, villagers never listen."
“That’s why the authorities confiscated their rice tractors. The villagers demanded that the authorities return the tractors. The authorities did not agree. That led to the protest,” Sahong said.
Samrong commune chief Hul Noeun told The Post on Tuesday that many villagers cut luxury logs to sell to middlemen but the authorities prohibit the activity and have attempted to educate them about the benefits of preserving forests.
He said the Forestry Administration should take legal action against the middlemen – traders who buy the timber from villagers.
If there were no middlemen buying from the villagers, Noeun said, there would be no illegal logging. Villagers are poor so it is difficult to prevent them from continuing to break the law.
“I am not in favour of one group over another. The experts [the Forestry Administration] should arrest luxury timber traders. It should eliminate forestry crimes. If you arrest buyers, no one will cut anymore. They should stop arresting villagers who log illegally,” he said.
A protester told The Post on Tuesday that the villagers protested because the authorities’ conduct was unfair. They never arrest luxury wood traders, such as one allegedly known as Mao, who purchased timber from villagers.
Because villagers do not pay the police a monthly fee, the protestor alleged, the police take action when they illegally transport small amounts of logs by motorbike.
However Mao, the trader, pays monthly and daily fees to the authorities and is never arrested, he claimed.
“Mao has two big locations for buying luxury timber. The police never do anything against him. However, if villagers transport a small amount of timber by motorbike, the police will confiscate it. When told that the timber will be sold to Mao, the police let them go,” the protestor claimed.
Sahong said he had not received any information about the trader identified as Mao.