Orphans Busted for Logging

Mired in poverty, three Kom­pong Chhnang prov­­ince orphans recently went into the forest and felled trees, breaking the government’s logging moratorium to survive, they say.

But provincial police accuse the two brothers and their neighbor of illegal logging and say their ac­tion was commercial.

Than Thea, Than Thet and Nhem Phann of Prasnet commune, Rolea Ba’ier district, re­turned from the jungle with three oxcarts of wood they planned to sell. On the way back, they were stopped and detained by local po­lice­men—who accused the three of illegal logging and demanded 160,000 riel (about $40) from them, according to a thumbprinted statement from the villagers.

Acting alone, without the presence of forestry officials, policemen detained the loggers for sev­en hours in the police station.

“This was not a logging crackdown but, in fact, extortion from the poor,” states the account written by the three men and authorized by their commune chief.

“We are too poor to afford enough food, medicine and mon­ey to support our siblings, so we borrowed people’s oxen and cart to go logging,” the letter states.

Provincial Police Chief Touch Na­rath called the statement a lie, saying that the boys were not poor and that the police officers ac­cused of ex­torting money de­nied the allegations.

The chief acknowledged that his po­lice sometimes illegally charged community loggers 5,000 riel (about $1.25), but said he had or­dered a halt to such activity.

Similar stories about alleged il­legal logging by poor villagers were reported in Kompong Thom province, where local officials said vil­lagers had moved in on the area formerly under the control of the GAT company, whose logging concession was revoked earlier this year.

“There may be some small logging by the poor for their families’ use. If there is, we will find it hard to use force against them be­cause they are poor,” said Roth Sovan­nara, head of the province’s logging and wildlife crackdown unit.

“But we are educating people about the importance of the forest, and we are disseminating the forestry law.”

The forestry law passed in June allows for some subsistence logging, and the government is in the process of drafting community forestry legislation that would give villagers power to manage nearby forests.

 

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