Around 600 hectares of the protected Southern Cardamom National Park in Koh Kong have been illegally cleared and sold off for cultivation since 2013, sometimes by local authorities, according to the conservation organisation Wildlife Alliance.
In 69 separate cases, dense evergreen forest in Thma Bang district has been cleared and burned and sold off to the highest bidder, said Suwanna Gauntlett, Wildlife Alliance’s CEO. Around 90 hectares of land were logged this year, she added.
According to the organisation, Russey Chrum commune chief Mean Noeurn, another former commune chief, a former district governor, a director of the agriculture department and a Chinese company called Jian Zhong Jin Shan Guo Ji Wou Xian Gong Si Co Ltd, were all responsible for the logging.
Wildlife Alliance declined to provide names besides Noeurn’s. Neither Noeurn nor the company could be reached and agriculture department director Ey Mengleang declined to comment.
Gauntlett and environment rangers met with Thma Bang district authorities last week to discuss the cases. Noeurn did not attend the meeting, and a commune clerk attempted to justify the clearing by saying the commune chief did not know the law, Guantlett said yesterday.
“I am denouncing the abuse of power of a commune chief who uses his title to sell state forest under the table for his own interest,” Gauntlett said.
Mon Phalla, provincial director of the environmental department, said his officials are studying the cases.