Officials Burn Villagers’ Crops in Mondolkiri Forest

Forestry officials resorted to destroying the crops of about 60 families living in protected forestland in Mondolkiri province on Monday following efforts to remove them from the land, an official said.

The families, from the provinces of Kompong Cham, Prey Veng and Takeo, have been living on the 70-hectare swath of land in Keo Seima district’s Sre Preah commune since 2010, growing mainly cassava, said district governor Sin Van Vuth.

They have twice been evicted by authorities, he said.

Sok Ratha, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that the status of the forest is unclear as there is no official demarcation to indicate that it is protected.

“This looks like a protected forest, but we never saw any officials from the province make it clearly demarcated,” he said.

Mr. Ratha added that he believes the evictions are a way to prepare the forest to be given as concession to nearby private rubber companies—Binh Phuoc 1 and Binh Phuoc 2.

Mr. Van Vuth denied the claims.

“After evicting the villagers, we won’t sell that area to any company because that forest has to be protected,” he said.

Villager Soran Sok Meng, 38, from Kompong Cham province, said that she had been living there for four years, farming four hectares of land. Following the evictions, Ms. Sok Meng said she sent a request to the provincial governor to issue her a land concession.

“I don’t know where I will live other than here because it is easy to live and plant cassava here,” she said.

“When I tried to stop [authorities], they threatened me saying that if I didn’t want to go to prison then I should go away,” she added.

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