Mondulkiri Provincial Court prosecutors have charged six villagers for creating 10 camps within the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, the same site where Walt Disney Company purchased $2.6 million in carbon credits in 2016.
The six villagers, from nearby provinces, were found in the forest by patrolling rangers and villagers on Saturday and produced before the court on Wednesday, where the prosecutor provisionally charged them with measuring protected land with the intention to clear it, said Kong Puthira, REDD+ project officer at Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Disney carbon credits initiative is linked to the wildlife sanctuary’s REDD+ project, a United Nations-backed program to combat deforestation by giving local communities funds towards sustainable development projects.
Puthira said the group of six claimed that they had been instructed to clear the land by local NGO Director Pang Chhoun, who used his organisation as a front to initiate the illegal logging operation.
“The six people confessed that they followed the order of the disability NGO director to clear the forest that has been sold to this company [Disney],” Puthira said.
Puthira said that the initial incident report suggested that around 800 villagers were expected to participate in the logging, but Chhoun during questioning said that only 100 people were involved. Chhoun could not be reached on Wednesday.
Mondulkiri court spokesman Meas Pros said he was unaware of the arrests because he was out of the province and Keo Seima District Governor Nuon Sakon did not respond to requests for comment.
Din Bunthoeurn, director of the wildlife sanctuary, said the camps had been burned down and that the six villagers had been released on bail by the investigating judge, adding that he would ask the court to investigate others involved in the case, including the NGO director.