LOCAL villagers and municipal officials in Sihanoukville have illegally cleared more than 100 hectares of acacia forest in Lek Muoy commune, residents and NGOs in the area said.
The acacia forest was planted as part of a joint effort between the Cambodian and Danish governments to protect local wetlands in Kbal Chhai that constitute the municipality's largest supply of fresh water.
"Authorities charged with protecting this area are doing nothing," said So Song, a Kbal Chhai resident. "They ... don't care that it will affect the availability of our water resources in Sihanoukville."
She said logging on protected land concessions is illegal, and she regrets there has been no reaction from the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), which worked jointly with Cambodian officials to protect the area in 2003.
"Some residents have not cut trees, but several businessmen have cleared the land and sold it for as much as US$2,800 for a 10-metre-by-30-metre tract," So Song said.
Bun Narith, a coordinator with the local human rights group Licadho in Sihanoukville, said the forest in Kbal Chhai was part of a land concession made to DANIDA in 2003 for the protection of local wetlands.
"The acacia trees are government property, and they have been cut down and burned," Bun Narith said.
Doung Socheat, deputy of the provincial Forestry Administration Department, said his officers have started to investigate claims of illegal logging.
"We are trying to protect the area by replanting lost acacia trees during the rainy season, but people continue to harvest them," he said, adding that he has asked for assistance from police in Sihanoukville.
"This is concession land, so anyone trying to sell or buy it is breaking the law," Doung Socheat said.
Say Hak, governor of Sihanoukville Municipality, said he understands the importance of preserving the wetlands.
"If anyone has information that government officials are involved in seizing this protected land, they should write down names and send them to me directly," the governor said.