While Ministry of Environment officials claim they and relevant departments implement forest protection and conservation measures responsibly, forest protection activists have expressed frustration over their inability to participate in patrols where illegal logging took place.
The activists complained they are barred from forest protection efforts and are being obstructed from carrying out patrols to protect illegal activity.
More than 60 monks, activists, community associations and civil society organisations issued a joint statement on Tuesday stating a ban on forest patrols provided the opportunity for criminals and especially companies, to log and transport timber from protected areas.
The activists are targeting two companies in particular – Think Biotech (Cambodia) Co Ltd, which exports timber through a partner company, Angkor Plywood Co Ltd, according to the statement.
Both companies have continued to operate during the Covid-19 outbreak while forest activists, especially the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN), have been banned from entering the forest’s core area, activists said.
Activist Heng Sros said on July 20 that during the ban, logging and transportation of timber such as Beng, Koki, Sokrom, and other types of luxury wood were moved by hundreds of trailers every day.
He said Think Biotech had recently adopted a new strategy of no more sawmills, no depots or piles of timbers and no more storage warehouses so as not to leave any evidence of forest crimes.
Instead, activists claim the company’s chief of staff deployed workers to accompany trading partners into the forest to measure the wood in the forest and immediately transport it abroad.
“The government must allow us to enter the protected area to continue patrolling the forest and investigating forest crimes. This is a sign of cooperation.
“We insist the government close this timber company to clarify a willingness to protect and preserve the forest,” Sros said.
Ministry secretary of state and spokesman Neth Pheaktra said on Tuesday the ministry and relevant authorities continue to implement the rules of protection and conservation of protected areas under its control responsibly and take action on natural resource crimes that have occurred.
“For issues related to issuing a licence to a company, please contact the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. I can’t comment on that,” he said.
Agriculture ministry secretary-general and spokesman Srey Vuthy could not be reached for comment.
Think Biotech representative Lai Heang said on Tuesday that his company did not fell trees as alleged by the activists. Instead, it is planting tens of thousands of cassia and eucalyptus trees to supply the market.
Heang said the company has the right to cut trees it planted and has not used the opportunity to cut other trees. He called the allegations slander against the company.
“Nowadays, we are planting cassia and eucalyptus trees on almost 1,000ha, but we have to stop for a while because there is no rain and they would die. For timber, we fell only small trees on company land. This allegation is completely untrue,” Heang said.