More than 100 ethnic Lao families living in Ratanakkiri province’s Lumphat district filed a complaint last week with local officials and rights group Adhoc accusing a private agro-industrial firm of illegally logging inside the protected Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary.
District and commune officials on Sunday confirmed that illegal logging was occurring inside the sanctuary, but said they were powerless to stop it and that only the provincial environment department could do so.
Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for Adhoc, said that on Tuesday, 124 indigenous families from Chey Uddom commune’s Sre Chhouk village filed the complaint claiming that employees of Daun Penh Agrico Co. Ltd.—which holds a 8,800-hectare economic land concession in the commune—have been conspiring with local officials to log inside the 250,000-hectare sanctuary.
Mr. Thy added that he led a party of 20 villagers to the company’s headquarters on Wednesday, where they discovered “thousands of pieces of wood piled in various places.”
Villagers who returned on Saturday counted 2,012 pieces of rough-hewn timber, each three meters long and 20 centimeters in diameter.
“We will file a complaint with the Ministry of Environment after the Water Festival holiday, because we no longer believe the local authorities will deal with this problem,” Mr. Thy added.
District governor Kong Srun confirmed that he had received a complaint from the Lao families on Tuesday, and on Wednesday went with Chim Phak, chief of Chey Uddom commune, to Daun Penh Agrico’s headquarters, where they also found evidence of illegal logging by the firm.
“I acknowledge that the sanctuary is now being logged by the company, but I have no right to stop it [the logging], because the [sanctuary] is controlled by the provincial environment department.
Mr. Srun—one of the officials named in the complaint sent to Adhoc on Tuesday—denied any involvement in the firm’s illegal activities.
Mr. Phak, the commune chief, confirmed that Daun Penh Agrico has been logging inside the Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary since the start of the year and transporting the wood to Vietnam.
“The logging activity began early this year. No authority has come to stop it,” Mr. Phak said, reiterating Mr. Srun’s claim that only environment officials are in a position to halt the logging.
Chou Sopheak, chief of the provincial environment department, declined to comment.
Daun Penh Agrico could not be reached for comment.