Ethnic Bunong in Mondolkiri province’s Sen Monorom City said Tuesday that they would no longer cooperate with local officials in fighting illegal logging and that they would begin to confiscate loggers’ equipment and burn illicit timber themselves.
At a press conference in Phnom Penh, representatives of rights group Adhoc and eight members of the minority group alleged that officials in the province were complicit with Villa Development, a company clearing land in the area.
“When the company started [logging], authorities threatened us. They don’t care about the logging. However, when we try to prevent them, sometimes we are arrested,” said Khvoeung Tom, a local of Sokdum commune’s Lavka village, where the Bunong traditionally tap resin trees to earn a living.
“We will burn all of the wood that we confiscate and stop giving it to the commune chief or village. How can we believe them if they always give it back to the company?”
Earlier this year, the Bunong community in Lavka village lost hope in officials’ will to protect the forest and began to patrol their forest around the clock.
On Thursday, two villagers were arrested by Sokdum commune police after attempting to stop Villa Development staff from clearing forestland. The villagers had stopped at least four trucks carrying luxury timber and confiscated three chainsaws, which they handed over to authorities as evidence of illegal logging.
Ny Chakriya, senior monitor for Adhoc, said staff of Villa Development carried guns and operated under the protection of officials, and that he had seen no proof that they had permission to cut trees in the area.
Yim Lux, deputy provincial governor, said the villagers would be breaking the law should they go vigilante in their protection of the forest but declined to comment on the legality of Villa’s operations.
“I don’t want to comment on anything involved with this company, because for a long time allegations have been printed in the media that Villa Development belongs to me,” he said.
Representatives of Villa Development could not be reached.