50 More Families Move Into Protected O Meanchey Forest

Fifty families have settled in a protected forest area in Oddar Meanchey province, joining more than 200 families who have been “squatting” there since July, forest mo­nitors said yesterday.

Sa Thlai, chief monitor of Oddar Meanchey’s 12 community for­ests, said yesterday that the latest families to have moved into the 6,000-hectare Romduol Veasna community forest in Samraong City’s Bansay Reak commune, arrived in the past two months.

Formalized by the government in 2003, community forests are arrangements in which local in­habitants are charged with the ma­­nagement of certain conservation areas.

Mr Thlai said the new families had been able to settle in the area because forest monitors were still scared for their safety after five were allegedly beaten up by RCAF soldiers on March 4. In a complaint to the court, the volunteer monitors alleged that the beating occurred when they asked the squatting families, some of whom include RCAF personnel, to thumbprint documents agreeing to move out of the protected forest.

“We are still afraid for our security because our problem has gone unsolved,” Mr Thlai said, adding that he had noticed the new arrivals during a trip to the forest last week. “If people are allowed to il­legally reside in our protected area, the forest will disappear someday.”

Samraong Governor Phon Lon said yesterday that district authorities had found land to resettle the families who had moved into the protected forest.

“Now we have asked them to relocate to new areas so that they can live permanently,” Mr Lon said.

RCAF Second Lieutenant Nuth Sarith, a company commander in the province, said soldiers’ families were ready to move from the forest as soon as the district authorities found them alternative land.

“Our families will move out of here, but we do not know when,” he said.

Sok Keo Bandith, deputy prosecutor for the Siem Reap Provincial Court, said all parties involved in the alleged beating incident in March have been summoned to appear in court on May 24 for questioning.

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