About 200 villagers from throughout Cambodia stood all day outside the Department of Forestry Monday, demanding that the department arrange a meeting with logging companies they claim are destroying the forests they depend on for a living.
Forestry officials met for about two hours with villager representatives Monday morning, but the meeting did not satisfy the villagers, who stood on the sidewalk for the rest of the day.
“It was very difficult to get here, and it would be easy to talk to us now because we are all here,” said Mom Sakim, a village chief from Kratie province.
Forestry officials told the villagers that they would consider comments submitted by villagers Saturday in response to forest management plans submitted in September by the companies, Mom Sakim said.
But the department did not respond immediately to the request for a meeting, she said. Instead they gave the villagers copies of the new Forestry Law, passed in September, and asked the villagers to make comments on the law. The department said it would form a committee to go to villages and review those comments.
That did not satisfy many of the villagers. “This is an excuse by the government because they don’t want to deal with the problem,” said Noun Moun, a Preah Vihear province villager.
“We want to meet the companies because the law is not enough,” Mom Sakim said. “If we can talk with the companies we can talk about all the issues.”
Villagers are scheduled to meet with King Norodom Sihanouk on this morning, Mom Sakim said. “We hope the King will advocate for us,” Mom Sakim said. “If he can’t help us, he may realize the real situation of people.”
Also Monday, more NGOs and forestry experts released blistering reviews of the 25-year logging plans, which are meant to show how companies can ensure revenues while preserving the environment and villagers’ needs.
“[If[ Forest Concession Management Plans and ESIAs [environmental impact reports] are approved in their current form, deforestation by forest concessions and impacts on local communities will increase to levels similar to the worst excesses of the 1990s,” wrote NGO Forum in comments given to the forestry department.
The plans must explicitly prohibit the cutting of resin trees upon which communities depend, and demonstrate a commitment to eliminate use of armed guards to protect concessions, the report urged.
Forestry department chief Ty Sokhun could not be reached by phone Monday afternoon.