Local rights group Adhoc’s Ratanakkiri province office sharply rebuked provincial officials on Feb 23 for failing to attend a two-day workshop with ethnic minority villagers on land grabbing and forest clearing.
Pen Bonnar, Adhoc provincial coordinator, said that the absence of the most senior government officials from the province might indicate that they condone the sale of community land and clearing of state-owned forests.
“Pure gold is never afraid of fire,” Pen Bonnar said. “The absence of those officials…is really noteworthy.”
Held on Feb 20 and 21 at the Build Bright University in Banlung town, the workshop was attended by more than 130 participants, including minority villagers, district governors and commune chiefs, Pen Bonnar said.
Contacted by phone Feb 23, Provincial Governor Muong Poy said that he could not attend the workshop because he was in Phnom Penh for an important government meeting. Tim Sinath, Provincial Land Management Department Director, said that he was also in Phnom Penh and that he hadn’t received an invitation from Adhoc.
“Our province’s governors and authorities have done a lot of work to crack down on illegal forest clearing and confiscated chainsaws from villagers to stop illegal logging,” Muong Poy added.
Pen Bonnar said that district governors present at the meeting admitted to engaging in illegal forest clearing because they had never witnessed anyone prosecuted or punished for doing so.
Banlung district Deputy Governor Sak Sun, who attended the workshop, confirmed that district governors at the meeting admitted to being involved in forest clearing.
“I have noticed and agree that there are some district governors involved with forest clearing or land grabs,” he added.