R’kiri Villagers Allege Company Cleared Forest

More than 100 ethnic minority villagers in Ratanakkiri province complained to local authorities Wednesday, saying they would take legal action against the Seng Keang Company unless it ceased clearing commonly maintained forest in Kon Mom district.

However, local officials said they were unaware of any such activity while a lawyer for the company said it abided by the law.

Villager representative Long Dy said Wednesday that since April the Seng Keang Company had cleared more than 200 hectares of a Trapaing Chres commune community forest­ry area of luxury and high-grade timber and that logs were being stored near commune offices.

“We villagers have been collecting the benefit of natural resources from that forest since the 1980s and we also marked it as a community forest,” Long Dy said, referring to an arrangement under which officials charge residents with the stewardship of forests.

Villagers in March refused requests by company representatives for permission to cut down the trees, said Long Dy.

“Because it was community forest, I refused,” he said.

Chhit Boravuth, a lawyer for the Seng Keang company, said Wed­nesday he was not familiar with the precise details of company operations but that illegally clearing forest were not in his client’s nature.

The company’s owner, Seng Keang, is the ex-wife of Dy Chouch, first cousin of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Trapaing Chres commune chief Seng Son said Wednesday he had accepted the villagers complaint and would investigate but that he did knot know whether the company had been clearing trees in the area.

“I only know the villagers cut the trees and clear forest by themselves honestly,” he said.

Leng Yuk, a Forestry Admin­istration official in charge of Kon Mom, Lumphat and Banlung districts, said the company had been awarded a 7,000-hectare forestry area in Kon Mom district and had not been seen logging outside this area.

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