Indigenous people in Mondulkiri province plan to file a complaint with the provincial court against a military officer from the Army Base “K1” in O’Raing district’s Dak Dam commune, for clearing forest land for personal ownership within the Phnom Nam Lear Wildlife Sanctuary.

But the army base’s commander Kong Dam said he had asked his subordinate officer about the accusation and was told that the land was cleared by residents.

“My officers only went to see the cleared land and it had long been cleared. The residents are the ones that cleared it. No soldier ever went to clear it. Overall, the community members share and clear it on their own. When they are afraid that soldiers are taking the land, they file a complaint, saying that we are the guilty party,” Dam said.

However, provincial forest activist Kroeung Tola said he would discuss the matter with a lawyer to prepare a complaint against the officer, whom he declined to name.

He claimed the officer had cleared several hectares of forest land in O’Raing district’s Dak Dam commune. In reality, he said, he had been ready to grab all 100ha.

“We went there and saw him clearing nearly 10ha or a little more than that. We saw trees spray painted as a mark to log further. According to my estimates, the land spans 100ha.

“Another military officer who asked not to be named said that the logger is the officer at the Army Base ‘K1’. Because I am preparing the complaint, I don’t want to reveal his name as yet. I will only confirm that he is a ‘K1’ soldier. But I will name him when I file the court complaint.”

Tola said on Wednesday, he and five other community members from Dak Dam and Bou Sra districts went to check the location and saw some felled trees. Some trees measured up to 1m in diameter, he said.

Originally, he said the land belonged to the Pou Treng village community under the management of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. But recently the community land was re-designated to the Phnom Nam Lear Wildlife Sanctuary under the same ministry’s management.

“The laws on granting economic land concessions stipulate that people or civil servants grow rice traditionally on 10ha or more. The government must remit the public’s property to private property. Without the transfer of public property to private property, a hard land title is still illegal.”

But Nam Lea Wildlife Sanctuary director Vuth Sarom said the forest land was not yet officially included in the wildlife sanctuary and is still under the ministry’s management.

“The land belongs to the community and they are requesting that it be transferred as a natural protected area under the Ministry of Environment. But a formal letter to this effect has not been prepared,” he said.

Provincial Forestry Administration director Um Van Sopheak said the land was no longer under the management of the Ministry of Agriculture and referred questions to a Ministry of Environment.

Dak Dam commune chief Chas Na said he would check the forest land when he received a report from the community head. If the land is cleared illegally, we will protect and keep it under the management of the state. “We have measures to stop any illegal clearing,” he said.