Activists in the northern provinces of Cambodia claimed on Tuesday that while police forces are busy providing security for the July 29 national elections, they are witnessing a worrying spike in forest crimes.
Prey Lang Community Network activist Phok Hong told The Post that forest crimes, including deforestation, have risen in Thmea and Reab Roy communes, in Preah Vihear province’s Chey Sen district, as the local police and rangers focused more on electoral campaigns.
For example, Hong said three days ago, she and her team were on patrol and found fresh axe marks on several resin trees and fresh tyre marks in Thmea.
They also saw some migrants from other provinces logging on state land in the southern part of Reab Roy commune.
“The pattern of criminal activity is similar to what went on during last year’s commune election campaign when police prioritised national security during the campaign period and left out active patrols,” she said.
A provincial deputy police chief, Prak Theouth, confirmed that forest patrols had slowed because his men were occupied with providing security at campaign rallies.
“During the electoral campaign, the main duty of our police force is to secure the safety of every party and supporter to prevent the occurrence of violence,” Theouth said.
Song Chansocheat, the provincial Environment Department director, said his rangers have continued their scheduled patrols of the forest, with no changes in routine.
“On Wednesday I will send the team to check on the area again, and we will act without exception against anyone who illegally cleared the forest in protected areas,” he said.
Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary deputy director Chin Monorith said the areas spoken of by the forest activists fell outside the sanctuary, and thus were beyond his jurisdiction.
However, he said his department also found the increase in criminal activity in the forest worrying.
“The deforested area is about 1km outside our area, but we are also concerned this group [of illegal loggers] are secretly going about their business, felling trees in the area, especially because heavy rains have made it difficult to patrol,” he said.
Separately, Seav Leang, a member of the Tompun ethnic community in Ratanakkiri province’s Oyadao district, told The Post that community members sent six suspected illegal loggers from Veun Sai district to the Forestry Administration.
They also seized four tractors and 12 logs. “Cases of timber transport are rising, and this is a concern,” he said.