Cambodian soldiers are continuing to cut into community forests in Oddar Meanchey province that are meant to anchor what is intended to be the country’s first forest-based carbon credit trading scheme, local villagers and NGOs said Wednesday.
Yan Sna said he and about 50 fellow Banteay Ampil district villagers found four or five armed soldiers using a bulldozer to clear a part of their official community forest on Monday.
Mr. Sna said the troops had already cleared about 200 hectares of the forest, whose produce the local community relies on to feed themselves and earn a living.
“I asked them why they were doing this and they said their superiors gave them permission to clear the forest,” Mr. Sna said.
“I depend very much on collecting mushrooms and firewood here; it will affect many people.”
The Andong Bor community forest is also one of 13 in the province the government and NGOs are trying to turn into Cambodia’s first Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) project, with the potential to earn millions of dollars for both the government and local communities.
By guaranteeing that the forests remain standing, they hope to use it to sell carbon credits to environmentally conscious firms abroad who wish to offset their own carbon emissions.
Unfortunately for them, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) are using the same forests to build a string of new outposts along the Thai border, and clearing a good deal of those forests in the process.
Representatives of the Children’s Development Association (CDA), one of the NGOs involved in the REDD project, and local rights group Adhoc visited the site with the villagers on Monday and corroborated their account.
“This community forest is far away from the market, and it’s very important for the people because they need the mushrooms and firewood and their lives depend on this forest,” CDA’s Chun Bora said.
Lieutenant Colonel Khat Sokha, a deputy commander with RCAF’s Engineering Brigade 716, said the area would be used for soldiers’ housing and that troops had cleared 100 hectares of the forest only.
“I came here to work for the sake of the country,” he said. “My superiors gave me this job [to clear the forest] so that we will be ready for battle,” he said.
The community forest groups trying to protect the trees say the RCAF has already taken over thousands of hectares inside the 13 community forests involved in the project and fear that this could derail the REDD project by scaring off prospective buyers.
The number of carbon credits for sale has already had to be scaled back because of the clearing.
Terra Global Capital, the U.S. broker for the project, has yet to sell any credits.
Pact, another of the NGOs working on the project, has also stopped paying for community patrols of the project area due to a lack of funds.
“We really regret that we haven’t been able to support forest patrols or do other activities since the needs up in Oddar Meanchey are so critical,” Pact country manager Sarah Sitts said. “Pact hopes the Cambodian government will help ensure these forests, that have community forest tenure, are protected.”