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Villagers demand forestry rights

Villagers demand forestry rights

The draft sub-decree on community forestry moved a step closer to completion with

the final conference between the Department of Forestry and Wildlife (DFW) and villagers

held in Phnom Penh January 17-18.

Hak Sarom from Oxfam GB said villager representatives were invited to submit their

comments at the meeting with the DFW.

"The sub-decree is very important for communities," said Sarom. "Villagers

will be able to benefit from harvesting non-timber forest products which they traditionally

use. However, the problem is that most of the places earmarked for community forestry

are currently land or forest concessions."

The right to set up community forestries inside forest and land concessions, both

of which are generally leased to private companies, was one of the main points villagers'

representatives requested the DFW include in the draft.

Man Li Hor is the representative from O'Svay commune, Stung Treng province. He said

his villagers faced the problem that most of the forest in a nearby cassava plantation

company's land concession was off-limits to them. That made collection of non-forest

products extremely difficult.

"We want the right to set up a community forestry inside the land concession,"

he said. "If we cannot do so, our people will lose out substantially, because

more than half of our income comes from this forest."

Dem Vuthy, who comes from Keo Sima district in Mondolkiri, said his villagers wanted

the government to hand over some plots of the Samling forest logging concession to

the local community to manage. That, he said, would prevent the problem they currently

faced of outsiders coming in and illegally cutting trees.

"We want Samdech Hun Sen to intervene and give us those forests because the

villagers love the forests," he said.

The final draft gives the right to local communities to crack down on illegal activities

and allows NGOs to provide them with assistance to do so. It also states that the

community is entitled to elect its committee free from any interference by local

authorities.

Chean Thayuth from Concern, an international NGO and a task force member, said the

draft would include those changes both the government and the representatives agreed

upon.

"For those issues they do not agree upon, the task force will debate them and

include them in other [subsidiary legislation]," he said.

NGOs have spent the last two months traveling the provinces getting feedback from

villagers. After the final consultation the task force will include in the draft

those suggestions it agrees with and send it to the Council of Ministers to examine

for approval. Oxfam's Sarom said it was unclear when the sub-decree would finally

be approved.

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