A group of minority Tampuon villagers in Ratanakkiri province’s Bokeo district filed a complaint with the provincial court yesterday over alleged illegal land encroachment after they caught a group of workers clearing forest near their village, a local villager and court official said.
Pes Chiv, chief of Pa’or village in Keh Chung commune, said more than 100 villagers had thumbprinted a complaint to the court over the clearing of one hectare of forest, which villagers used for traditional livelihoods, such as collecting tree resin and other non-timber forest products. “I filed a complaint [yesterday] because my villagers want to protect our forest,” he said.
Mr Chiv said on Friday a group of about 130 villagers confronted a team of 10 workers led by a local land broker who were felling trees deep inside the forest with machetes and chainsaws.
“Mr Sok switched on the chainsaw and waved it around to intimidate the villagers to stop them approaching,” he said, adding that after 30 tense minutes, the loggers ran off without their equipment.
Rocham Peun, the deputy Keh Chung commune chief, said villagers had seized two chainsaws and two machetes. He said district police had investigated the incident, but villagers had refused to hand over the equipment to police, fearing the evidence of illegal logging would be lost.
Prak Soeurn, chief clerk for the provincial court, confirmed the complaint had been passed on to the provincial court prosecutor.
Pen Bonnar, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for human rights group Adhoc, said he had helped villagers draft the legal complaint against the land broker and his men.
Mr Bonnar said indigenous groups were learning to deal with illegal encroachment in their forests. “Locals are more educated after attending many public forums and land rights conferences,” he said. “This is why they peacefully united to combat deforestation.”
Pa’or villagers are also involved in a long-running dispute with Ly Sokim Co Ltd over 100 hectares of land, and in March, the court heard 14 villagers defend themselves from allegations of occupying the firm’s land.