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Forest community files petition over crimes

Forest community files petition over crimes

The Prey Preah Roka Forest community has submitted a petition to the Minister of Environment asking for legal action against forest crimes after nine patrols since early last year led to the discovery of 98 forest offences.

The ministry accepted the petition and plans to send officials to investigate the cases.

The three-page petition, signed by 154 people including local monks, was submitted to Environment Minister Say Sam Al on Friday. It noted systemic issues with policies and law enforcement.

It said penalties faced by those caught carrying out illegal logging were ineffective as the poor workers cutting down the trees turned to their rich employers to cover the fines.

The petition noted that there are crisscrossing routes in the forest which make it easier for offenders to transport wood and wildlife and that there has been no thorough investigation into those buying the wood.

The petition said there are no monitoring mechanisms to hold authorities accountable if they fail to carry out their duties or accept bribes to turn a blind eye to forest crimes.

Perpetrators were often sawing and transporting wood at night to make it difficult for authorities to arrest them, it noted.

Community representative Thang Suth said local officials need to enforce the law to stem forestry crimes in Preah Roka Forest in the districts of Chheb, Choam Ksan and Tbeng Meanchey in Preah Vihear province.

He said community patrols found 98 forestry crimes in nine outings since early last year, with more than 418 pieces of timber confiscated.

Suth said the petition included evidence, such as a GPS number and video clips showing footage of illegal timber transporters, in which the perpetrators confessed they transported the wood for a powerful boss.

“There has been continued deforestation by perpetrators who are logging and transporting timber for business, despite the government putting the area into the Preah Roka Wildlife Sanctuary in 2016,” he said.

Community resident Heth Nai said addressing the problem would not be difficult if the government and ministry were willing to listen to local villagers and act upon the evidence provided by them.

“We see a shortcoming in law enforcement at the wildlife sanctuary. Aside from patrolling by the rangers, I think the ministry needs to be more strategic. So I want it to show concrete actions and strategies,” he said.

Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said officials received the petition from the community and would inspect the site as requested.

Prey Preah Roka is the second largest forest after Prey Lang, located at the confluence of the three districts of Chheb, Choam Ksan, and Tbeng Meanchey in Preah Vihear province.

It covers an area of 95,905ha rich in all kinds of wildlife and trees. About 15,046 people live in the area in 21 villages.

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