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Forest crime still rampant: NGO

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Chea Hean inspects timber logging in Kampong Speu province on February 9. CHEA HEAN VIA FACEBOOK

Forest crime still rampant: NGO

Forest crime, including illegal logging and transportation of timber, is rampant in the Cardamom Mountains Wildlife Sanctuary, according to the environmental watchdog ACNCIPO.

ACNCIPO director Chea Hean told The Post on February 13 that during a patrol by his team, timber logs were found being transported out of the sanctuary’s forests on home-modified trucks. Those logs were brought to Kampong Speu province’s Oral district for sale to traders.

“According to what [the] loggers say, the sanctuary contains reach kol timber logs. They had cut them down and transported them out of the forests of the Central Cardamom Mountains,” he said.

According to the information his team had received, the loggers paid between 200,000-250,000 riel ($50-$60) to forest authorities to be allowed to remove the logs.

But Hean stressed that these are merely claims by illegal timber transporters and require a full investigation. “At this time, our team is continuing to investigate this case further to report to the Ministry of Environment and other stakeholders for further action,” he said.

Hean added that between February 9-12, his team discovered timber being transported out of three locations within the forests of the Central Cardamom Mountains.

Pursat provincial environment department director Kong Puthyra told The Post that authorities and local partner organisations had recently patrolled the area and discovered evidence of logging, but found only two to three bulldozers in one location.

“I do not deny [that we saw logging activity.] But the crime met with crackdown by our environmental officers and intervention from relevant institutions [such as] the Wildlife Alliance.

“We have striven to conduct the patrols, investigate and clamp down on the crimes,” he said.

He added that three days ago, officers seized two bulldozers and “sent two suspects to court”.

Puthyra said that when arrested, the loggers had often excused themselves by saying that, unable to find other work during the Covid-19 outbreak, they took the risk of logging in protected and conserved areas of the sanctuary out of desperation because they owed money to banks.

He said that while he sympathised with their financial plight, law enforcement officials are bound by duty to apprehend them. “[Ultimately,] if we see them commit wrongdoing, we must arrest them, educate them, fine them or send them to court to be punished according to legal procedures,” he said.

Puthyra also called on Pursat provincial environment department rangers to cooperate with partner organisations in regularly investigating natural resource crimes, and to increase patrols to tackle illegal logging in the province’s wildlife sanctuaries.

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