A group of indigenous villagers in northeastern Cambodia’s Stung Treng province called on local forestry officials Wednesday to crackdown on illegal saw mills and to provide them with protection after they received death threats from unsanctioned loggers of luxury timber.
The 32 villagers in Sesan district’s Sbal Romeas commune received threats from the loggers after they warned commune authorities that three illegal mills in the area would destroy the local forest and its resources if they weren’t shut down, a villager named Kim Doeurng told RFA’s Khmer Service.
The commune authorities refused to raid the mills, however, prompting the group to sign a petition calling for action, he said.
“We thirty-two community activists delivered a petition with our thumbprints demanding that the commune forestry administration crack down on the saw mills, and filed another complaint against the 10 loggers who threatened to kill us on June 7,” Kim Doeurng said.
“[The loggers] threatened to kill us, and to destroy our property and livestock.”
According to Kim Doeurng, one of the saw mills has been operated by a man named Try for around two years—encouraging residents to illegally log the forest for luxury timber, such as rosewood. Each of the three saw mills process around 200 cubic meters (7,060 cubic feet) of wood per month, he said.
He and the other villagers vowed to continue fighting illegal logging in the area, despite the threats.
Another villager named Dam Samnang said area loggers want to silence those who have spoken out about protecting the forest, adding that the death threats from earlier this week were not the first his group had received.
“A few communities have filed complaints with the local authorities to protect the natural resources,” he said.
“If the saw mills continue to operate, we will continue to file complaints against those businesses.”
Hour Samol, the Stung Treng provincial coordinator of local rights group Adhoc, urged villagers to keep up their struggling against illegal logging and urged the forestry administration to take full responsibility according to the law.
“We urge the villagers to file complaints with the local authorities in order to have prosecutors work on the case,” he said, adding that the prospect of earning money through illegal saw mills was driving the practice of illicit logging in the region.
Sesan forestry chief Ly Koun told RFA that his officers had raided an illegal logging operation in the district on June 3 and would inform the community about the situation after questioning those involved.
“I will give [the loggers] a 30-day notice to summon them for questioning and require that they provide proper documentation” to show whether they have been licensed to run a saw mill, he said.
Illegal timber trade
In February, the London-based environmental watchdog Global Witness said in a report that China’s voracious demand for luxury furniture is driving a multimillion-dollar illegal trade in rosewood in Cambodia, supported by tycoon Okhna Try Pheap, who controls a network that exports the timber.
The kingpin of the company involved in the illegal logging network operates with the complicity of government, military, police and customs officials in felling rare trees, transporting them across Cambodia, and loading them onto boats headed for Hong Kong, the report said.
Cambodia’s export of Siamese rosewood logs, which are used to make pricey reproduction Qing and Ming Dynasty furniture in China, rose 150 percent between 2013 and 2014, it said, noting that Hun Sen’s government banned the harvesting and export of the wood, known as Hongmu, in 2013.
Reported by Men Sothy for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.