Officials deny hiring indigenous villagers to clear state forests

Source : Khmer Times

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Officials said if any trees were felled, villagers chose to do so themselves.

Ratanakkiri provincial authorities yesterday denied accusations by a group of villagers that the authority of O’Yadav and Andong Meas districts hired ethnic minority villagers to cut the forest along the Cambodia-Vietnam border.

Local media quoted the group of villagers as saying that the logging has been occurring along the Sesan river and from border post 19 to 25 while unnamed officials from the two districts paid the ethnic minority villagers to cut the forest so the officials could claim the land.

Chev Sophea, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said he heard the news from colleagues and not directly from the villagers of O Yadav district’s Sesan commune and Andong Meas district’s Nhang commune.

“I heard it from my co-workers and from others. There has been no official complaint from the villagers,” he said.

Den Khorny, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said he would be surprised if the news was true as authorities were the ones who stopped villagers from felling trees.

“If the authority has so far stopped the people from cutting, but then they hire them to cut, then it is against the law. It is strange to me if this happened,” he said, adding he would conduct an investigation into the case.

“In that area, I used to receive information about logging when I taught law there. The villagers told me that the authority stopped them from logging and I explained to them that the authority had the right to do so.”

Leng Yuk, chief of O’Yadav district forestry administration, could not be reached for comment, while O’Yadav district governor Ma Vichet did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

Phat Sambath, deputy governor of Andong Meas district, said that if the logging happened, it was only on a small scale and by the villagers living there themselves.

“There are no people logging on a large scale there. As I know, the border police office is posted there. They wouldn’t dare cut trees,” he said.

“From border post 25, it is the indigenous minority’s farmland, were I went once. It is normal for the villagers to cut the trees on the land there. If we don’t let them cut, how can they grow anything to eat?”

Mr Sambath denied that district officials allowed the indigenous minority to log in that area.

“It is not true and if there is logging, it is just villagers. From border post 17 to 24 is farmland that contains the villagers’ cashew nut trees and it is their tradition to cut the trees,” he said.

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