The head of one of the key monks' community forests in Cambodia has decided to pursue legal action against soldiers who were allegedly caught with a truck of illegally logged timber and threatened to set patrollers' families on fire.
The Phnom Penh Post reports that Venerable Bun Saluth, head of the Sorng Rukhavorn community forest, has decided to pursue legal action against a two soldiers over an incident in January in which the monk claims they beat and threatened forest patrollers, who caught them removing luxury timber from the sacred forest.
The Post reports that Ven Saluth accused the soldiers Moeng Duong and Sam Pisey of carrying out forestry crimes and of threatening to set a patroller’s family on fire.
The alleged offence happened in January after monk patrollers stopped a mini-tractor loaded with timber.
“If they have a position they need to be demoted, because the people who committed the crime should not have a title,” Saluth told the Post on February 5.
“They are not soldiers defending the country or protecting the people. They are thieves.”
The army has a different story. Regiment 424 Commander Sin Pean acknowledged that Duong was at fault for taking the tractor and timber back from the patrollers and fleeing. However, he denied that Duong had been cutting timber himself and said he bought the wood from a villager to make furniture.
He said Duong had already been punished.
It is illegal to transport luxury timber without a permit, regardless of its purpose.
Military officials who threaten Forestry Administration officers or commit forestry crimes are subject to one to five years in prison and a fine of 10 million to 100 million riel (US$2,500 to $25,000).
In 2001 Venerable Bun Saluth, the head monk of Samraong Pagoda in northern Cambodia, near the Thai border, started to walk his local forest asking illegal loggers and hunters to protect the local biodiversity.
At the time local communities had almost no understanding of conservation and its importance. Yet, impressed by the monks’ efforts to honour Buddhist precepts and to protect the living resources of the forest, many villagers volunteered to patrol with the monks.
Since then, a sea change has occurred."We are now seeing the new generation of youth living in the 8 nearby villages also becoming involved in protection efforts," said ARC's Cambodian project manager, Chantal Elkin, of the vision that became known as the "Monks Community Forest".
Older members of the patrol teams help these young villagers learn about the importance of the community forest, as well as the local regulations that govern its protection, and where the most important conservation forest sites and wildlife corridors are located.
"In 2015, approximately 50 young people began to participate in patrolling activities," she said.
Most days and nights there are teams of monks and village volunteers patrolling the 18,261 hectares of rare lowland evergreen forest. In 2015 they did this for 288 days of 365.
In 2015 Patrol teams removed 1,654 snares from the forest and confiscated 16 guns. When hunters were caught, the patrols asked them to sign agreements committing themselves to never hunting again in the community forest. Ten such agreements were signed in 2015.
Patrol teams arrested about 20 loggers and sent them to authorities at the Forestry Administration. They confiscated 23 chainsaws which they gave to the local Forestry Department. When trees are felled illegally and the wood confiscated, the MCF teams often ask the Forestry Administration for permission to use the timber to build shelters and patrolling stations.
Short video in French
Links and resources
Youtube interview in Cambodian on the Monks Community Forest
Youtube interview in Cambodian on understanding REDD+ and how to protect the forest in Cambodia