RCAF soldiers are rapidly clear-cutting forests in Battambang province’s Samlot district and have felled trees on at least 600 hectares of land, officials said this week.
Touch Mony, deputy chief of the forestry department in Battambang, said Monday that 50 soldiers from Brigade 52 have decimated the forests, which are on state property.
“Trees have fallen and they are lying around everywhere,” he said. “More than 600 hectares have been cleared.”
Touch Mony said officials recently visited the area hoping to stem the destruction.
“We asked them to stop cutting trees because it is state land and a prohibited place,” he said. “Their commanders implored us that they need farmland for their soldiers’ family members to settle because they have had no farmland since 1996.”
Ek Sam On, deputy commander of Military Region Five, which includes Battambang, said Monday that the area belongs to Brigade 52’s military base.
“More than 200 soldiers have no land for their families to live and to farm,” he said. “They just take the land belonging to Brigade 52 to plant rice, vegetables and fruit trees …they have not stopped because they were not informed to cease when the relevant officials went to inspect the place.”
Touch Mony vowed to return to the site again soon to stop the operations.
“If they do not follow our request we will send a report to the court to finally decide,” he said.
Chhay Yuop, director of Battambang’s environment department, said that he had received reports that rubber trees were being planted on the contested land.
“Logging has decreased since we have imposed strict measures, but the clearing of forest trees to make way for farms is still very serious in this province,” he said.
Yin Mengly, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, estimated the amount of forest cleared to be closer to 1,000 hectares.
“This is forest destruction on a large scale, they should stop immediately,” he said.