Kampong Speu officials have proposed granting 400 hectares of land to residents affected by the clearings at Metta forest, though little detail was given about the proposal at a public forum last week.
The Metta forest in Oral district’s Trapeang Cho commune has been cleared by people allegedly directed by a local military unit, with the deforestation peaking in the last few months and ceasing last month just short of a pagoda housing a hermit monk.
The clearings seemed to stop short of land occupied by the pagoda, leaving a small patch of uncleared forest in the southwest corner of the forest.
Soy Sat, a community member, said the deputy of the Kampong Speu environment department, Nov Nak, and other officials held a public forum last Wednesday where they proposed giving villagers 400 hectares of land in exchange for the cleared forest.
The authorities said 30 hectares of forest around the pagoda would remain untouched, Sat added.
“What the community wants is a sustainable forest, the pagoda, a meditation place and animals living around,” Sat said.
He said the community was skeptical of the offer because local authorities have been reluctant to help people in the past.
The community posted a video clip from the forum showing Oral district governor Moung Thy saying it was futile to ask NGOs for help because the government was the only one who could aid the residents.
“Don’t you know the district governor? Don’t you know the commune chief? The question to the NGO is how can they solve it? Because only we can do it. So please don’t annoy them,” he said in the video clip.
Reached on Monday, Thy refused to answer a reporter’s questions.
“First, I don’t know you, the reporter. I won’t answer. We’ve never met each other. You just call by phone. So come to meet in person,” he said.
The land was given to a military tank unit in a sub-decree last year, with village residents alleging the clearing was being done with instruction from soldiers from Brigade 70. They have allegedly coordinated the deforestation activities and even threatened local residents who opposed the clearings.