Kreung Villagers in Ratanakkiri Say Illegal Loggers Are Back

A group of ethnic minority Kreung villagers in Ratanakkiri province filed another complaint with rights group Adhoc on Tuesday against loggers they accuse of illegally clearing their community forest on behalf of a local businessman.

Bun Srouch said he and fellow villagers noticed that loggers were back at work cutting down trees inside the Tachang Community Forest on April 13 after about a yearlong lull, and that about 20 of them visited the site in Kon Mom district Wednesday morning.

“We went there…and we saw two groups of 18 people working in the forest with chainsaws,” he said. “We told them to stop clearing the forest, but they ignored our request.”

Mr. Srouch said the villagers believed a local Muslim businessman known only as Moulsa was behind the logging and that they had filed a fresh complaint with the local Adhoc office on Tuesday.

“We filed the complaint with Adhoc because we need them to intervene because we cannot stop the forest clearing,” he said.

Provincial Adhoc coordinator Chhay Thy said he passed the complaint onto provincial authorities the same day.

He said the villagers accuse a former commune chief of having sold 500 hectares of the government-recognized community forest to Moulsa for $2,000 shortly before the chief died in 2012, and that about 40 hectares had been cleared since.

“I have investigated and found that commune and district authorities are standing behind Mr. Moulsa and they give him strong support to clear the community forest for their own benefit,” he said.

District Governor Chhoeun Chan Thean denied any collusion with the loggers and said he did not know of anyone named Moulsa.

Instead, he accused the Kreung villagers of illegally selling off the community forest to local Muslim families and said his officers have being trying to catch the loggers.

“We sent our officers to arrest those people before Khmer New Year but they escaped into the forest,” he said. “We will send our forces out again soon.”

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