A group of 12 ethnic minority villagers in Ratanakkiri province have filed a complaint with the provincial court over what they claim is collusion between other villagers and local authorities to illegally log luxury timber from 193 hectares of land inside a community forest.
The Prov ethnic villagers from Ka Chanh village in Lumphat district’s Lbaing 2 commune brought their case to local rights group Adhoc after their complaints were ignored by local officials, who they claim are complicit in the illegal logging.
“Some people have been illegally logging, and powerful people, local authorities in particular, are defending the lumber dealers,” said Chhay Thy, provincial investigator for Adhoc.
“We have already prepared the documents and the villagers filed the complaint with the court today after they unsuccessfully sought help from authorities to stop the illegal logging,” he added.
The complaint, which was thumb-printed by the 12 villagers, alleges that two other ethnic Prov villagers, Cha Voeu Lumbu and Rith Ra, were seen illegally felling trees in the area along with Phean Deth, a commune police official.
According to Ka Chanh village chief Plen Lorng, a community forest patrol on the night of September 1 caught the two men illegally cutting down high-priced timber, and he and other villagers confiscated 30 logs and a motorbike from the two men and brought them to the village office building.
“We went to stop those people who attempted to steal the logs during the night time, but Phean Deth, one of the three accused people, threatened to kill all of us with an AK-47 saying ‘you all want to die,’” said Mr. Lorng.
Another one of the complainants, Cha Maing Sopheak, 25, said that on a recent forest patrol, the villagers had found more than 2,000 logs varying in size from 5 to 7 meters and 30 to 60 cm in diameter.
“We filed a complaints against these three people because they are logging and selling to businessmen, but we don’t know who [the businessmen] are,” he said.
Lbaing 2 commune chief Thit Chang said that he was aware of a spate of illegal logging in August, and suspected that the timber was being sold to local furniture dealers.
“We have made efforts to prevent illegal logging, but we haven’t been able to protect the trees because [the loggers] conduct their activities at night,” he said.
Lumphat district governor Kung Srun said he was frustrated by the failure of commune-level officials to enforce tighter restrictions on logging that he has previously ordered.
“I recognize that the commune chiefs are not implementing my order because they sign on with businessmen to cut down trees in the community forests,” he added.