THE Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), Chan Sarun, has floated
the idea of arming forestry officials and allowing them to keep half of any money
obtained during crackdowns as a "reward".
Sarun made the suggestions on April 6 at an annual meeting to review his ministry's
work in over past year and to set objectives for 2004.
Among the 280 attendees were Prime Minister Hun Sen, representatives from ten government
ministries and NGOs.
"[MAFF] proposes to the government to provide the right for the use of weapons
by the Forest Administration [FA] officials who are the justice police," Sarun
"In order to encourage the officials who have achieved a crackdown on all kinds
of forestry and wildlife [crimes] the government should allow the Forestry Administration
to take 50 per cent of the income [arising from the seizure] as a reward," he
A senior MAFF official, who did not want to be named, said he would discuss with
the Ministry of Economy and Finance whether the collection of "rewards"
would involve selling timber and logging equipment or just the confiscation of cash
found on illegal loggers.
He said that if the suggestion was taken up it would be the FA's "rehabilitation
justice police" who would receive the guns.
An increase in the power of the FA is a worrying prospect for those living in the
forestry concession areas, said Tan Sokhom, Forestry Project Officer with NGO Forum.
"It's a very, very bad idea, it will scare community people," Sokhum said
of the plan to give FA officials guns, adding that the police or military are currently
used as protection during illegal logging crackdowns.
She said corruption among the forest crime authority was already a major issue.
"Community people always report that when they confiscate a chainsaw, the logger
can give some money to the official and get it back," Sokhum said.
At a recent meeting of communities living within 13 forest concessions, each provincial
representative reported ongoing illegal logging, despite a 2002 moratorium on cutting
and transporting timber.
The full outcomes of the March 16-18 Forestry Network Meeting, organized by NGO Forum,
are expected after Khmer New Year.