Bunong Villagers Barred From Attending Illegal Logging Protest

Authorities in Mondolkiri province’s Pech Creada district on Wednesday set up roadblocks to prevent indigenous minority villagers from traveling to Sen Monorom City to attend a demonstration calling for an end to illegal logging, villagers and authorities said.

Some 300 indigenous villagers had planned to attend the protest at Doh Kraomom hill in the provincial capital, according to Bunong activist and event organizer Blang Sin, but most were diverted by traffic police and local authorities who set up roadblocks on the outskirts of town.

“Three communities from three separate communes were stopped and ordered by authorities to go back to their villages,” Mr. Blang said, adding that about 100 people attended the event, which went ahead peacefully.

Yoeth Sarin, chief of Pech Creada’s Bosra commune, confirmed Wednesday that villagers had been prevented from joining the demonstration, but said the decision to do so was made at the district level.

“The authorities who are stopping people from going to the protest are district officials and police, not commune officials,” Mr. Sarin said.

District police and officials could not be contacted for comment Wednesday, but on Tuesday, deputy provincial governor Yim Lux said that an order had been passed down to district authorities to prevent villagers from attending the demonstration because it could “hurt tourism.”

Kroes Khvin, a 41-year-old Bunong man, confirmed that those orders had been carried out as he and seven other villagers were stopped by traffic police and district police as they approached Sen Monorom City.

“When I told them that we were going to attend a peaceful rally to advocate for an end to deforestation and do a traditional dance, they kept saying they had orders from provincial superiors to stop us,” Mr. Khvin said.

The forests of Mondolkiri, much of which are ostensibly protected by community forest titles, are under increasing threat from loggers, according to Adhoc’s provincial coordinator Sok Ratha.

“Forest areas registered for collective titles are being logged…. In the next few years, all the forest will be gone if there is no mechanism to stop it now,” Mr. Ratha said.

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