A village leader in eastern Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province has confiscated a petition from villagers seeking a halt to illegal logging on a nearby sacred mountain, threatening to have them arrested if they persist in their complaints, sources said.
Ethnic Lao residents of Cambodia who moved two years ago from border areas to the province’s Lum Phat district are now being helped by local police and other authorities to clear land on Phnom Kunthy mountain near Patang village for their own use, villagers told RFA’s Khmer Service on Friday.
And though villagers prepared a petition this week asking provincial authorities to help stop the encroachment, their village chief seized the document on Thursday, refusing to pass it on, one resident said.
"The village chief [also] threatened us,” village representative Hon Luch said, adding, “If we file the complaint again, he will order police to arrest us.”
Speaking to RFA, village chief Pheng Maing confirmed that he had confiscated the villagers’ petition, saying that they had not informed him of their plan to complain.
“Logging is definitely taking place in this area, and we have already summoned those responsible in order to resolve this issue,” he added.
This is not the first time that Patang authorities have threatened villagers attempting to stop the clearing of their land, said Chhay Thy, a provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, adding that local officials may also be involved in the logging.
“According to our own investigation, [the loggers] are planning to clear about 600 hectares [1,480 acres] of land,” he said.
“When villagers filed a complaint with forestry officials, the loggers stopped for a short period of time,” he said, “But the logging started up again earlier this month.”
Lum Phat officials are now set to investigate complaints against the village chief who seized the villagers’ petition, acting district governor Nou Te said, adding that he recommends that villagers submit their complaints directly to the district.
The seizure of land for development—often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents—has been a major cause of protest in Cambodia and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Myanmar.
Reported by Ratha Visal for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.