Villagers: Logs Felled for Gov’t on Sacred Land

The logging operation to supply timber for the new National As­sembly building in Phnom Penh has begun in Ratanakkiri province, despite objections by eth­nic minority villagers who say some of the land being logged is sacred, officials said Tuesday.

Officials said in May that the government had ordered more than 10,000 cubic meters of wood for the building.

“We have been operating in two different sites,” said Hong Phea, deputy chief of the prov­ince’s forestry department. “They are cutting with high technical skill.”

He said there have been tensions between the logging company and ethnic minority villagers over the operation, though he added that forest sacred to the villagers will not be damaged.

Hong Phea also accused villagers of exaggerating the extent of forest that is sacred in the area.

Logging for the assembly build­­ing began in early Decem­ber in O’Chum and Veun Sai districts, he said, though he declined to say how much wood was being sought.

Some senior provincial officials and NGO staff have said they are concerned that the logging will damage sacred shrines in the forest, and that more timber than is legally permitted will be logged dur­ing the operation.

“I am watching this closely,” said Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc. “Stealing wood is a concern because some officials are not reliable.”

Ethnic minority community lead­ers in Tang Krapou village in O’Chum and Pak Nam commune in Veun Sai are carefully watching to see if any of the logging done is illegal, he said.

Muong Poy, deputy provincial governor, said he had heard that some villagers were protesting inside their sacred forests, but ad­ded that tensions have now subsided.

The logging concession for the assembly is located on the site of the old 60,000-hectare Hero Tai­wan concession, which was cancelled in 1999. Its exact size is un­known.


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