More than 10,000 families have poured into an area of Prey Lang forest in Kampong Thom province since January, clearing 20,000 hectares of trees to sell as luxury timber and building houses, Prey Lang Community Network members claimed yesterday.
Community representative Menh Ny said authorities were turning a blind eye to the migrant families’ actions, which included transporting truckloads of luxury timber out of the forest to sell.
“If they are allowed to continue, Prey Lang will be extinct in the near future, because migrants, companies and police forces alike are logging for sales and waiting for volunteer youths to come and measure land,” he said.
An independent source working in the area who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal also said the number of new families in the past three months exceeded 10,000.
Many are believed to be from Kampong Cham, Kratie, Kampong Thom, Prey Veng, Svay Rieng and Takeo provinces.
Ny said he had pleaded with authorities to prevent further damage to the section of the forest the families live on, which stretches from Santouk district’s Boeung Lvear commune to the border of Kratie’s Prek Brosop district.
“The village chief, the commune chief, district authorities and forest administration officers have not taken any action against these families – and they are now trying to arrange documents to let them vote in the area in the upcoming election,” he said.
Ny believed the families had promised to vote for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in exchange for land.
Sam No, a Prey Lang Community Network representative from Kratie province, also believed authorities were involved in the logging.
“I pity the forest that is being ... cleared away. Police and soldiers are behind it,” he said.
Nou You Sos, who has recently taken up residence on five hectares of what was once thick forest, said talk among migrant families was that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s student land measurers would mark out his plot before July’s National Election.
“I have heard from others that [we] will be [formally given] our land, so I can live here legally,” he said.
Ouch Sam On, Kampong Thom deputy governor, said the number of families who had migrated to the forest was nowhere near 10,000 and the area they had logged was at the edge of Prey Lang rather than in it.
“We have asked our mixed authorities, such as forest administrative officers and police, to go and educate them and prevent them from clearing the forest,” he said. “Now, we’re seeing a decrease.”
Sam On added that authorities would not measure land for people who logged areas of the forest and had not promised land in exchange for votes.
Boeung Lvear commune chief Pen Noeun declined to comment, while Teb Nhata, director of Kampong Thom forest administration department, told a reporter not to “believe what they say”.
A sub-decree in 2011 established Prey Lang as a protected conservation, forbidding clearing of the forest for private ownership.