Two representatives of an ethnic Bunong community in Mondolkiri province’s Keo Seima district said during a meeting with rights workers in Phnom Penh on Wednesday that illegal logging in their commune was rampant and accused local authorities and a prominent businessman of being complicit.
During the meeting with the NGO Forum, Treb Therm, one of the villagers from Sre Preah commune’s Pu Kong village, alleged that middlemen in the area had been buying wood from illegal loggers and reselling it to businessman Soeun Som Ol, who in turn sells it to the Binh Phuoc Kratie Rubber I Company.
“The cutting of the trees happens during both nighttime and daytime, but local authorities do not take action…because the company does not respect the power of the authorities,” Mr. Therm said.
He added that the destruction of their communal forest was impinging upon the traditional Bunong way of life and that a decrease in the number of resin trees—which produce a sap that can be sold in markets—had hurt their incomes.
District governor Sin Vanvuth said Mr. Som Ol had been issued a license by the Forestry Administration to transport wood for the Binh Phuoc company, but that he did not know him well enough to comment further on his activities.
Cheng Sovichet, a manager at Binh Phuoc, could not be reached.
Vanna Khverk, the other community representative, said villagers had repeatedly tried to stop the illegal loggers, but that military police and local officials had prevented them from entering the forest.
“I think the authorities are hiding the loggers and allowing them to cut the wood,” he said.
Mr. Khverk added that an estimated 2,000 hectares of land have been clear-cut in Sre Preah commune since 2012, and that locals had on several occasions detained illegal loggers only for authorities to then set them free.
Contacted Wednesday, provincial governor Eng Bunheang said that in recent years, loggers from other provinces had flooded into the area, but were often treated with leniency by authorities.
“If we arrest those people, we just make a contract with them, then release them, because we don’t have enough prisons in which to detain those people,” he said.
Mr. Bunheang added that when police arrested loggers, the loggers claimed to have “full freedom” and told officers they had no right to detain them.
District police chief Sun Bunthoeun denied that his officers were involved in illegal logging, or that they released arrested loggers.
“If you have names, please give them to me and I will take action against those people,” he said.