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Sacred forests ‘bulldozed’

Kreng people stage a protest in a section of community forest that has been deforested in Ratanakkiri
Kreng people stage a protest in a section of community forest that has been deforested in Ratanakkiri’s O’Chum district earlier this year. PHOTO sUPPLIED

Sacred forests ‘bulldozed’

Representatives for 35 ethnic minority families living in Ratanakkiri’s O’Chum district are seeking aid from a rights group amid Vietnamese rubber concessionaire CRD’s ongoing destruction of their sacred community forest, an NGO said yesterday.

Yesterday, two La’ak commune representatives filed complaints with rights group Adhoc, according to provincial coordinator Chhay Thy, claiming that CRD first began razing the forest along with adjoining farmland in November and has now bulldozed some 1,000 hectares.

“The ethnic villagers are concerned about losing more forest and slash-and-burn farmland [a farming technique commonly used for root crops] now and in the future,” Thy said, noting that the land was their chief source of livelihood.

Despite the arrival of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s youth volunteers to measure the land in July and August, allocating up to three hectares to each minority family, the company has not stopped clearing the surrounding area, Adhoc and local villagers said yesterday.

“After the land was measured, the company continued clearing the rest [of the surrounding community forest] of the land that is symbolically important to these ethnic villagers,” Thy explained, highlighting how the loss of so much land was splintering their cultural connection to a landscape they have called home for thousands of years.

In response to the villagers allegations yesterday, La’ak commune chief Yam Pan told the Post<?i> that local authorities had already cordoned off protected community forest, including venerated burial grounds.

The company has only cleared land granted to it by the government, Pan said, adding that he planned on visiting the village to look into the matter today.

CRD could not be reached for comment yesterday.

While the Cambodian government did allot CRD 7,591 hectares of land in three districts in 2011 for rubber development, the firm has since faced multiple accusations of malfeasance.