Mondulkiri Villagers Accuse Local Officials of Clearing State Forests

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A cut tree and crane used to clear trees in a state forest in Mondulkiri province’s O’Raing district in 2020 (Supplied)
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Seven ethnic Bunong villagers and a human rights officer in Mondulkiri province have filed a complaint to the provincial court accusing two local officials and two others of illegally clearing state forest land for private gain.

The complaint names O’Raing district governor Siek Mony, Phnom Namlea Wildlife Sanctuary director Vuth Sarom, former Dak Dam commune chief Sam Vanny and a former representative of the local Bunong community Uth Simath, and accuses them of colluding to clear thousands of hectares of forest land in the commune’s Pou Les village, which is inside the sanctuary.

“We deeply regret the loss of thousands of hectares of forest, rare plants and endangered wildlife because of the responsible officials who have attempted to benefit personally,” says the complaint, which is dated Wednesday and was seen by VOD.

Mony denied the allegations and said he would appear in court if summoned.

“I will give testimony with what I know. I will answer as much as I can,” he said.

Contact information for Sarom, Vanny and Simath could not be obtained by a reporter on Friday.

Since 2013, encroachments on thousands of hectares of land inside the Phnom Namlea sanctuary, which is managed by the Environment Ministry, have occurred without prevention by authorities, according to the complaint.

Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Before the complaint was filed, there was a dispute between Simath and Mony over a 300-hectare area of dense forest in the sanctuary, with Simath accusing Mony of clearing 10 hectares, the complaint says.

Sraing Soeung, one of the eight who filed the complaint, claimed that villagers had evidence showing that the identified officials were illegally clearing the forest.

“They have bulldozed and cut down [trees]. We went to stop them a few times, but they did not respect and listen to us. They are still encroaching on dense forest, our ethnic community’s spirit forest,” Soeung told VOD.

“The longer they clear, we will lose the natural resources preserved for the whole nation and it affects our community’s land. It destroys our ethnic identity,” he added. 

Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for human rights group Adhoc, added his thumbprint to the court complaint alongside the seven Bunong villagers.

Throughout Mondulkiri, there have been many cases of forest land grabbing and thousands of hectares of state forest encroached by wealthy people for years, Bonnar told VOD.

While no one can own state forest land under the law, there were irregularities involving authorities issuing titles for land in the province’s protected forests, he claimed.

“Every day, we see more illegal logging because of collusion between the local authorities … so that all the logging of the forest is successful,” Bonnar said.

Still, he added that he was hopeful that the Mondulkiri court would find justice for Bunong people.

Meas Pros, head of the provincial court’s administration office, said the court received the complaint and would summon the accused for questioning, but did not say when.

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

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