Nearly 200 people from 25 different communities converged on the Mondolkiri Provincial Hall Monday to file complaints and petitions calling for an end to illegal logging and environmental degradation.
The action comes two days after armed commune police blocked 16 rights workers and journalists from visiting disputed land in Keo Seima’s Sre Preah commune. The authorities claimed the group had no permission to proceed along the public road, and that they were afraid the press coverage would lead to further incursions by timber-hungry logging companies.
Sreunh Mach, a representative of the ethnic Banong minority community of Sre Preah commune, said he was hoping that they would have more luck in reaching a solution by bringing the provincial government’s attention to their plight.
“For three or four years, many problems facing the minority have not been resolved by the commune and district office,” he said. “The minority is worried about our community forest. In the future, it could be destroyed by companies leaving nothing for the next generation.”
Villagers in Sre Preah have long accused two companies—Sovan Reachsey and Bin Fuerk I—of illegal logging on disputed land. Saturday’s excursion to the disputed areas was organized by rights groups hoping to raise the profile of those locked in the dispute.
“In the past, we survived on timber,” said Mr. Mach, “but how can we continue to live if our community forest has been ruined?”
Provincial officials spoke with the group and assured them they would help find a solution, said Mr. Mach and Yim Lux, Mondolkiri deputy governor.
“We will step over the past and, together with [other authorities], try to find a solution despite the protests,” said Mr. Lux.
Vong Kosal, a legal officer for the NGO Forum, which led Sunday’s trip, said he was hopeful the petition would get results.
“We are supporting the movement of the minorities coming to the provincial hall to speak with authorities.”