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Environment ministry, activists spar over Preah Roka deforestation claims

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Community activists said they discovered 260 incidents of forest crime at Prey Preah Roka Wildlife Sanctuary in July. SAN MALA

Environment ministry, activists spar over Preah Roka deforestation claims

The Kuy indigenous community in Brame village and commune and six environmental activists claim to have found 260 cases of deforestation in the Preah Roka Wildlife Sanctuary of Preah Vihear province from July 15 to 17.

However, the Ministry of Environment stated that the ministry, the other relevant ministries and local authorities have been effectively preventing forest crimes there in accordance with the law as well as implementing economic development measures.

Preah Vihear environmental activist San Mala told The Post on July 19 that their information gathering efforts in the forest were not large-scale patrols, but done with the help of the Kuy indigenous community, which conducts its own patrol every two months typically.

Mala said that this time they went a distance of 27km and found 260 cases of deforestation along with 367 timers and 12 pieces of sawing machinery as evidence.

Mala said that the trees that were cut down ranged in diameter from 30cm to 150cm and were mostly luxury woods which the indigenous community extracts resin from.

He claimed that according to his firsthand observations conducted until now, the problem had doubled in size and that the increase in forest crime reflected a lack of capacity and willingness to protect the forest and natural resources by the environment ministry and other relevant authorities.

He added that the deforestation was having a serious impact on the livelihoods of people engaged in resin gathering, which is one of the customary means of earning a living by the Kuy indigenous community.

“If we compare this with previous surveys, we see that the deforestation activity has nearly doubled. Each time we surveyed previously we found from 80 to 140 cases, but this time we found 260 cases,” he said.

He called on the environment ministry to stop restricting the rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples and the public and allow them to protect their natural resources by giving them permission to participate in forest protection activities as they had in the past.

He also called for law enforcement and local officials to form some kind of monitoring mechanisms and ensure that no officials were conspiring with the illegal loggers or accepting bribes from timber traders to allow the destruction of the forests in their area.

Neth Pheaktra, spokesman for the environment ministry, said the ministry was not interested in responding to third-party reports.

He said that large-scale natural resource crimes no longer occurred in Cambodia and there were only small-scale crimes taking place in the protected areas, which the ministry and relevant authorities have been preventing and cracking down on by implementing both legal and economic measures.

“The ministry has been implementing local economic development measures to provide new options, employment and income to the community to reduce pressure on natural resources. With the improvement in protection and conservation, Cambodia has sold carbon credits in the international voluntary market and used those funds to strengthen conservation and development of livelihoods, communities and income generation through eco-tourism,” he said.

He said that the ministry has made extensive efforts to protect and conserve natural resources using practical and real solutions.

“Unlike some who are just talking beautifully or counting the number of trees in order to compile reports according to a set political agenda in exchange for funding to extend their organisation’s viability,” he said.

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