Indigenous Patrollers Raise Alarm Over Keo Seima Encroachment

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Indigenous patrollers photographed deforestation in Mondulkiri’s Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary on September 22, 2021. (Supplied)

More than 100 hectares of Bunong community land and protected Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary forest are being cleared, a community patrol reported this week.

About 10 community members patrolled O’Reang district’s Sen Monorom commune on Wednesday and found about 100 hectares of the sanctuary and 12 hectares of community forest being cleared by machinery, said Sokha Thot, head of the local community.

Due to safety concerns, the community members did not try to stop the clearing, but they took pictures and submitted them to local authorities, Thot said.

“In that area, our ethnic community members rely on getting vines, rattan, mushrooms, and other things. If there is no timely prevention, I am worried about the loss of forests and wildlife in the area, which has a lot of wildlife and a lot of big trees,” he said.

Another member of the community, Mal Thach, said the machinery was being used to cut a boundary around the area.

“I urge the relevant authorities to prevent clearing and deforestation in the area so as not to affect the community in that area. If the forest is cut down and is all cleared, what will the people depend on?” he said.

Mondulkiri provincial environment department director Keo Sopheak said he had received the community’s information about the clearing in the area, and had sent officers to investigate.

“[We] have not found the location. However, we will continue to research this case,” Sopheak said.

Adhoc official Pen Bonnar said illegal encroachment on protected land was widespread across Mondulkiri without strict legal action being taken against perpetrators.

Only those with money and power would dare use heavy machinery to clear the forests, and it raised the risk of corruption, he said.

“We see that there are powerful people behind the clearing of all forest land. Ordinary people will not do such things. In Mondulkiri, it is not only a single case, there are many. We see that till now, both the authorities and judicial police seem to be silent and do not dare to take action on it, even if there is an order or a letter from the Ministry of Environment. It is like fearing the power of all of those violators.”

Bonnar said only an order from Prime Minister Hun Sen would lead to change to prevent natural resource crimes.

Thot, the community leader, said the community forest spanned 1,426 hectares, recognized for 183 families since 2007. The Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary covers an area of 292,690 hectares.

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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