The governor of Kompong Speu on Tuesday ordered 10 armed soldiers to help a team of environmental officials confront a group of “anarchic” farmers clearing state forestland in the province.
In a letter to Srun Saroeun, commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ Brigade 31, governor Vey Samnang requested that the soldiers travel with “experts” from the provincial environment department and remove some 130 people clearing a swath of forest overlapping two national parks in Phnom Sruoch district.
“There are some bad people who have cleared forestland anarchically in Kirirom National Park and Preah Monivong Bokor National Park,” he wrote, adding that the soldiers would serve to “maintain security and public order and prevent the anarchic clearing of land.”
Reached by telephone, Mr. Samnang said the farmers started razing the forest earlier this year so they could plant rice, and had so far cleared some 500 hectares.
“It’s difficult to stop these people from illegally clearing forest because they always run, or threaten to attack officials with knives and axes,” the governor said.
“The soldiers have guns, but they will not use them to kill people,” he said. “The soldiers will just use the guns to disperse people.”
“Please don’t write that we will not use the soldiers to arrest people,” he added. “If you do, they will not be scared, and they will step on the heads of our soldiers.”
Keat Raingsey, director of the environment department, said the governor’s plan was sound, adding that he had unsuccessfully attempted to convince the group to leave on multiple occasions.
“I’ve told them to ask for land from the provincial administration if they don’t have land for planting rice,” he said. “They didn’t listen to me and kept clearing illegally. That’s why we need soldiers to stop them.”
Members of the community could not be reached. Rath Thavy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said he knew nothing about the impending confrontation and would not investigate unless he received a formal complaint.