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Forest Residents Form Watch Committee Against Logging

Experts say as little as 30 percent of the country’s forest cover remains, while logging continues to be a problem.
Experts say as little as 30 percent of the country’s forest cover remains, while logging continues to be a problem.

Nearly 300 people living near Prey Lang forest, in the north of the country, have formed a community policing effort to stop what they believe is illegal deforestation, an environmental activist said Thursday.

Chhim Savuth, a coordinator for public forums at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told “Hello VOA” that the authorities have a duty to crack down on illegal deforestation and should help protect Prey Lang. He joined “Hello VOA” by phone from the forest, where villagers had gathered.

“By law, the authorities have the competency to crack down on illegal activities, but since [villagers] have lost their confidence in the current authorities, they decided to do this,” he said.

The villagers, who came from the provinces of Kampong Thom, Preah Vihear, Kratie and Stung Treng, will police the area themselves from Nov. 7 to Nov. 13, he said.

“The most important part of their journey is to protect natural resources, especially to patrol and assess and crack down on illegal logging in Prey Leng, which today is being chaotically destroyed,” he said.

Thursday evening, he said, the forest watch went to a company and demanded to see its license and other legal evidence of its work. Although the company was guarded by police, members of the watch were able to meet with company representatives and eventually inspect its operations.

The watch has so far confiscated four chainsaws and piles of illegal timber, Chhim Savuth said, adding that he was only there as an observer.

“They walk into the jungle with bare feet, carrying backpacks, sleeping in the rain and fog,” he said. “They think if they don’t protest, that their children will have problems all together.” Many of the forest watch inherited trees and land from their ancestors and are not willing to see them cut down, he said.

Companies have illegally cut down the trees in their areas, under the guise of legal concessions. And though some concessions bring jobs, many forest residents do not want to work for a company but would rather farm on their own.

“The think that company work is not easy,” he said. “When they have the ability to work, they can have an income for their daily lives, but when they fall sick, they will lose everything.”

However, government officials say they want this to change. “We want to reform the mindset and the habit of the people,” said Uth Sam, deputy governor of Kampong Thom province. The way they are living is not sustainable now, he said, and they would be better with jobs on rubber plantations. More jobs at home, he added, would mean less people would have to leave to find work in Thailand.