Villagers and NGOs have accused local authorities, including forestry and environmental officials, of accepting bribes from illegal loggers in exchange for unfettered logging expeditions in Preah Vihear province’s Preah Roka protected forest.
Noun Mon, an adviser to a group of community activists in Brame commune, said that illegal logging has continued unabated in the forest, despite the government declaring it a protected area in 2016.
“I saw the traders come in to log the forest. When the authorities saw many traders come in, they seized a truck and kept it in the post for one night before returning it to the suspects,” Mon said yesterday.
Another local, Saing Sing, said the illegal loggers are more afraid of the activists than the police.
“The traders who cut down trees in Preah Roka forest are happy when they see a policeman or officer. They just put some money in their pockets and are ready to continue with their cutting. But, if they see the community come in, the traders are afraid like they saw a tiger,” she said.
Yoeun Dinith, a member of the Youth Resource Development Program, said he led a team to investigate the area over two days and saw evidence of illegal logging.
“[Locals] told me that the authorities in the area are inactive in ending illegal logging, and simply collect money,” Dinith said.
Khol E, the Preah Mear commune police chief, denied the accusations and refused to answer more questions.
Ping Tryda, the provincial director at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries said he did not know the specifics of the cases villagers referred to, but denied there was widespread illegal logging.
“I’m not sure . . . but it’s just poor villagers who come in to log to build a few houses,” he said.