NGO Returns Forest-Protection Team to Oral

Flora and Fauna International en­forcement teams resumed work in Kompong Speu pro­vince’s Oral Wildlife Sanctuary Aug 16, after a nearly five-month suspension over clashes between villagers and rangers, a project adviser said Saturday.

FFI-trained rangers confiscated three truckloads of timber in Tra­paing Chor commune on their se­cond day back at work, said Ben Hammond, protected areas management adviser for the NGO.

Enforcement and community development teams suspended work in late March after villagers armed with sticks and knives converged on NGO-trained rangers and demanded the return of im­pounded timber and vehicles in several incidents over the course of a weekend. In one confrontation, an NGO-trained military policeman and a villager were shot and wounded.

FFI said soldiers incited the ri­ots, and that the military was be­hind much of the illegal logging within the sanctuary. The NGO sought a safety guarantee from lo­cal authorities, including the military, before returning. “We managed to get the support of police and provincial officials,” Ham­mond said. Military officials have denied any involvement in illegal logging in the area.

Provincial Governor Ou Bun, however, said military was in­volved and welcomed FFI’s re­turn to Oral. “In the past and the present, some military, some police and some people, they collaborate together to cut trees,” Ou Bun said Sunday. “I myself cannot do anything about it.”

Soeung Bunthoeurn, Kom­pong Speu Environment Depart­ment director, also said he was happy FFI teams had resumed work. “When they were absent, illegal activities happened a lot more than before,” he said Monday.

Though regions of the sanctuary have been heavily logged, it still holds large tracts of unexplored, pristine forest on and around Oral Mountain, Cambo­dia’s highest peak.

(Additional reporting by Van Roeun)

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