Kampong Speu Forest Defenders Summoned in Standoff With Soldiers

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Kampong Speu residents say the army’s tank unit has cleared their land in Oral district. (Supplied)
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Six Oral district residents have been summoned to a Kampong Speu court for questioning for incitement as part of their efforts to protect a community forest that is being cleared by soldiers.

Residents are attempting to protect the forest, known as Udom Sre Kphos and Prey Metta Thomcheat, by camping out in the community forest and disrupting clearing operations by soldiers. They said the 2,000-hectare forest has slowly been whittled down to around 900 hectares, with an August 2021 government sub-decree allocating a further 262 hectares of the forest to 41 families, including those in the army’s tank unit.

Tin Sochetra, a prosecutor at the Kampong Speu Provincial Court, said six people would be questioned in court on January 27 and could potentially face the charges of incitement, public insult, intentionally causing damage and threats.

The summonses were issued for Lor Soly, Chhuon Khoeun, Khon Sarith, Chhorn Thea, Soy Sat and a name that residents said was incorrect on the sixth summons, which they said they would therefore ignore.

VOD could not reach the plaintiff in the case, Pen Sarith, who villagers say is a military official. Environment department director Om Mak Theary also could not be reached.

Previously, Mak Theary said the land was already transferred to the families and soldiers, and that the government was preparing court complaints against residents blocking the clearing of the forest.

Sarith, one of the six people summoned for questioning, said the complaint was meant to be a threat and discourage them from protecting the community forest.

“The court should drop the charges or should not work on the lawsuit because we didn’t do anything wrong as they alleged in the lawsuit.”

Residents say the forest, used by residents of three villages in Trapaing Chor commune, was used for herding cattle, collecting vines, and finding mushrooms, vegetables and other forest products.

Khoeun, another of the summoned residents, said villagers had tried to protect the forest for more than 20 years.

“I think this is too much, we are just protecting common property, but they sue us in the court. So it seems very unfair for us. If I were protecting it for myself, then it would be right to sue me,” she said.

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