Fourteen people have been identified for inciting more than 70 villagers to burn down two ranger stations in Taveng commune, Taveng district, Ratanakkiri province. District officials will bring the case to court, said Ministry of Environment secretary of state and spokesman Neth Pheaktra.
Speaking to The Post on Monday, Pheaktra said some villagers grabbed land at a protected area and after the rangers intervened they set the stations on fire. “This is unacceptable, and the ringleaders must be held responsible for their action according to the law for destroying state property.
“We have identified 14 people already as the ones who incited the villagers to burn the stations and we are suing [them] in court,” he said.
Pheaktra said the rangers worked with the Taveng district police to patrol the protected forest on Friday and Saturday and put up signs to deter people from logging and clearing forest for private ownership.
They also seized two chainsaws and demolished four huts that were built illegally. People were made to sign contracts promising to stop repeating the crimes. The land that they already cleared is to be seized.
“The enforcement of the law made around 75 violators furious and they gathered to burn down the stations,” he said, adding that the two stations are made of wood and that some other property was also damaged in the fire.
The ministry confirmed that no one is authorised to buy or sell land in the protected area. It called on people who are unaware of the laws to stop their illegal actions, namely clearing, burning, and building huts to grab land at protected areas.
It also urged people to voluntarily dismantle their constructions that were built unofficially and return grabbed land to the ministry without any conditions or else they would be brought to justice. The ministry also rejected documents claiming ownership of the protected land.
Provincial Department of Environment director Phon Khemerin said the 75 people on around 40 motorbikes stormed the stations and burned them down.
Adhoc provincial coordinator Din Khanny said on Monday that while razing the stations was against the law, rangers have also been slow to ban people from committing similar crimes, and this caused their anger.
“When the people cleared the area and built huts, officials did not stop them. They thought that there was no problem and they continued doing it. Then the officials dismantled the huts. The lateness in taking legal action made the people angry,” he said.