Mondulkiri officials face land clearing collusion charges

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Members of the Bunong community had discovered three men (two escaped) felling trees while patrolling the Phnom Nam Lyr Wildlife Sanctuary last Thursday. Supplied

A Mondulkiri commune chief and its head of police are among three people who could face up to five years in jail for allegedly allowing protected forest to be illegally cleared after complaints were filed with the provincial court.

The two officials and a local villager also face fines of up to 100 million riel ($25,000) under Article 100 of the Forestry Law.

Two Bunong indigenous representatives from Bou Sra commune’s Pou Lu village in Mondulkiri province’s Pech Chreada district brought the court action, which claimed protected forest in the Phnom Nam Lyr Wildlife Sanctuary was felled.

Kroeung Tola, a Bou Sra community representative, told The Post on Monday that he had filed cases against Dam Dam commune chief Chas Na and its head of police, known as Nang.

Kam Kimvy, a local villager, was also named in the complaint for allegedly hiring workers to cut down trees in the sanctuary.

Na denied allegations that he had allowed the protected forest to be cleared and said the commune police chief would investigate.

He did not indicate when this would happen.

“I did not allow anything [illegal]. The community has called on me, so I will go and inspect the location,” Na said.

Tola said 15 members of the Bunong community had discovered three men felling trees while patrolling the Phnom Nam Lyr Wildlife Sanctuary last Thursday.

While two escaped, the one who was apprehended said he had been hired by Kimvy to clear land, Pou Lu village community leader Klang Thol said.

“He said he was a hired worker and received one million riel [$250] per hectare. We saw they had cleared around 2ha of land. As we are not law enforcement officials, we could not arrest the offender, but he confessed that [Na, Nang and Kimvy] planned to fell trees across 7ha of land,” Tola said.

He said some of the trees were “so large that it would take two people to wrap their arms around them”.

The cleared land was in a thick area of forest usually reserved for burials. It is about 40km from the commune hall. Two chainsaws were handed to environment department officials in Bou Sra commune as evidence, he said.

Tola said the patrol did not give prior notice to the commune police chief or environment department officials for fear they would tip-off those involved.

Local environment department chief Sok Socheat said he would visit the area on Monday and report his findings to the provincial department.

Eang Mengly, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the Bunong community often complained when working with local authorities on forest patrols – particularly of environment department officials alerting illegal loggers.

“Authorities ask for paperwork to allow patrols and avoid going on them with the community.

“The community has lost faith in the local authorities, so I demand that they cooperate with the community and address the problems,” Meangly said.

The Post could not reach provincial environment department director Keo Sopheak for comment on Monday.