Ten trailers full of logs per day are being removed from a Kampong Speu forest that residents are trying to protect after the government transferred a portion of it to soldiers, locals said.
The Metta forest, in Oral district’s Trapaing Chor commune, has seen repeated clashes between residents and soldiers due to the official transfer of land last year to the Cambodian military’s armored vehicle unit. However, locals who have pressed for official recognition as a forest community say members of the Brigade 70 infantry unit have been enforcing the military’s possession of the land, leading to warning shots fired and court summonses.
The rights group Licadho has noted the area is part of the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary and has traditionally been used by about 253 families.
Prom Thomacheat, a monk living in a pagoda inside the forest, said on Friday that individual loggers were being allowed into the forests and were carting away timber every day.
At least 10 trailers were removing wood daily, Thomacheat said.
“Now the animals don’t know where to run and hide,” he said. “Some of us are begging with our hands not to cut [the trees].”
Phok Chum, chief of the neighboring Po Meas village, said logging was happening within the social land concession that the government had given to soldiers, suggesting that it was legitimate. Provincial environment director Om Mak Theary went further, saying that the community’s resistance against the soldiers’ clearing made them “an opposition group” that “posts fake news.”
Photos taken by resident Lok Sokly show heavy machinery and a large clearing in one part of the forest. Sokly said there were two such clearings within the south and southeast of the community area. One of them was only about 900 meters from Thomacheat’s pagoda, he said.
He also alleged that soldiers were paying people to log wood from around the forest.
“They cut it one by one to take only the large wood, some to build a house and some to make charcoal,” Sokly said.
Last August’s government sub-decree handed 260 hectares of the forest to 41 military families, leading to local protests. Community members say they have been protecting about 2,000 hectares of forest for decades, but it had already dwindled to about 800 hectares of forested areas.