Ratanakkiri Villagers Protest Against Community Forest Logging

Local officials in Ratanakkiri province and rights group Adhoc said Tuesday they were investigating claims by villagers that an agri-business company was logging their government-approved community forest.

More than 100 ethnic Prov residents of Taveng district’s Phao village protested in front of the Taveng Krom commune council office on Monday when four trucks and an excavator showed up that morning to resume the logging of their forest, said Kham Le, one of the protesters.

“We protested at the commune office to stop the illegal logging because I received information that the loggers are cutting wood…but authorities did not come out to meet with us,” Mr. Le said after the protest.

Phoeuk Trouk, another of the protesters, claimed the loggers have felled hundreds of luxury grade Thnong trees since June and were shipping the sawn planks down river to Vietnam.

“The workers are logging and spray painting the trees that they want to cut,” said Mr. Trouk.

Commune chief Moeung Soun confirmed the logging was taking place inside the community forest.

“We have not yet solved the problem because I am still collecting information about the logging,” he said.

Mr. Soun said he doubted claims by the protestors that the people cutting the trees worked for businessman Try Pheap. Mr. Soun also ac­cused the protesters of incitement for collecting names on a petition against the logging.

Representatives for Try Pheap could not be reached for comment.

The Agriculture Ministry in February granted the Try Pheap Import Export firm exclusive rights to purchase all timber felled inside Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) in Ratanakkiri. Government officials said the deal would help stem illegal logging in the area by giving ELCs a ready buyer for their wood, but human rights activists warned that it would in fact encourage and speed up the illicit activity.

Chhay Thy, an investigator for rights group Adhoc in Ratanakkiri, said he and his staff were looking into the villagers’ complaint, but could not yet conclude who was involved in the logging.

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