After almost five years of alleged illegal logging in Preah Vihear province’s Preah Rokar community forest by a local businessman, more than 100 villagers yesterday petitioned the provincial authorities to shut down his handicrafts company.
The villagers say that the woodworking operation, owned by businessman Sar Kib, has for years depleted the forest of valuable and protected timber.
The more than 100 protesters from 142 families in Purteab village, M’lou Prey 1 commune, Chbeb district, urged the provincial Forestry Administration to close down the business.
“The dramatic increase of wood crafts has forced these people to protest,” Lor Chan, Preah Vihear provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said yesterday.
“The [business] owner has hired migrant workers to log the timber in Preah Rokar forest both day and night, but officials just ignore it,” he added.
A 35-year-old protester, who asked not to be named, said that Kib’s business was the biggest of several in the village.
The company had hired about a dozen loggers to sell protected timber to his workshop from the 95,000-hectare forest, from which they were collecting four or five cubic metres of thnong and koki luxury wood per day.
“In total, hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of timber must have been logged here since 2010,” he said.
Ith Phomara, Preah Vihear Forestry Administration director, could not be reached yesterday, but deputy director Norng Khemrin said the authorities had accepted the villagers’ petition and would launch an inquiry.
“The wood crafts business is licenced.… [But] we will send inspectors to check on it. We will have to wait for the results [of the investigation],” he said.
Kib could not be reached yesterday.
Yan Chhay, Purteab village chief, echoed villagers’ concerns. Kib’s business employed several workers from other provinces, handing out chainsaws and giving them the use of makeshift tractors to haul the wood to processing zones, he said.
However, he had never seen forestry officers take action against the firm.
Preah Rokar community forest covers 95,905 hectares of land in Tbeng Meanchey, Chheb and Choam Ksan districts. Logging in the forest – other than by those considered part of the local community – is banned under a sub-decree on community forestry management signed in 2003.