SINCE last year, up to a half of nearly 8,000 hectares of community forest has been encroached upon and cleared in Oddar Meanchey province’s Banteay Ampil district by soldiers, community representatives said yesterday.
Din Heng, chief of Ang Dong Bor community, said the army has cleared between 3,000 and 4,000 hectares of Ang Dong Bor and Dong Beng community forests in order to build garrisons. The pair are among 12 community forests that make up the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) carbon credit program.
“We saw tractors and chainsaws felling big trees and clearing more than 1,000 hectares of our forest. In addition, soldiers have set up offices atop 2,000 hectares,” Heng said.
Sar Khlai, Oddar Meanchey provincial community forest chief, said the army only needs 2,600 hectares of state land to live and set up garrisons.
The community began protecting the forest in 2004. Four years later the Ministry of Agriculture issued a letter officially preserving the forest, Heng said.
“We are hopeless to take care of the forest. We do not have the power to protect it. It will disappear one day because no measure has been taken by the authorities.”
Choun Sophorn, a Dong Beng community forest activist, said Dong Beng forest covers 1,843 hectares of land, but the army has heedlessly spotted the forest with garrisons, and taken other land to resell.
“[The land] was sold $150 per hectare. We see the destruction, but we can’t take action against it,” Sophorn said. The army had been setting up offices in the forests since 2012, and rumours had been floating around that the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces would begin measuring the community land to house their families, Sophorn added.
Hing Hoeurn, Banteay Ampil deputy governor, acknowledged the situation, but said the army entered the forest on a government order.
“The government allowed the army to set up offices inside the community forest when we had border disputes, but it somewhat affects the forest,” Hoeurn said adding that authorities had provided land for the army aside from the forest land they had been clearing for themselves.