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Villagers say land clearing ongoing in Ratanakkiri wildlife sanctuary

Felled logs found earlier this week in the protected area of Ratanakkiri’s Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary.
Felled logs found earlier this week in the protected area of Ratanakkiri’s Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo supplied

Villagers say land clearing ongoing in Ratanakkiri wildlife sanctuary

A group of villagers and activists in Ratanakkiri’s Lumphat district are alleging that 30 to 40 hectares of protected forest have been cleared in the past month, even after a suit was filed in July against local officials accused of turning a blind eye to logging in the area. Another group of villagers, meanwhile, protested the activists over the weekend, accusing them of working on behalf of the opposition.

Thirty ethnic Tumpoun villagers said they observed mass clearing at Art Mountain, within the Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary, on August 11. They were accompanied by Din Khanny, a provincial coordinator for human rights group Adhoc, who confirmed yesterday that a swathe of land had been cleared in the last month.

“We have inspected and found more evidence. We will file the evidence to the court before the questioning in this month or next month,” Khanny said.

In July, senior Adhoc official Pen Bonnar, nine villagers and Chheuy Odom Rasmey, the son of murdered environmental activist Chut Wutty, filed a suit against seven local officials. The suit accused the officials, including Phon Khemerin, director of the Ratanakkiri Provincial Department of Environment, of being complicit in the illegal logging trade.

“There were hundreds of logged trees in the mountain area,” said Chhom Phalla, one of the nine villagers involved with the complaint.

In May, the Environmental Investigation Agency reported that 300,000 cubic metres of illegal timber were hauled from Ratanakkiri to Vietnam illegally.

Khemerin, who has previously denied his involvement, refused to comment on the case yesterday.

According to an article on the National Police website yesterday, 119 villagers from the same commune gathered to protest against the land activists on Saturday. According to the post, the protesters said the complainants were Cambodia National Rescue Party activists who incited Adhoc to sue the local authorities.

Ang Bunthieng, Seda commune chief, confirmed the gathering took place, while Ker Channarith, the commune’s police chief and one of the defendants in the suit, said the counter-protesters have not filed a lawsuit of their own.

Phalla, one of the original complainants, said the protesters have the right to challenge the activists, but only the court can pass judgment on the case based on the evidence.

Adhoc’s Khanny added that the plaintiffs were summonsed to appear for questioning this week, but requested a delay because they don’t yet have a lawyer.

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