Following the release of the Ministry of Environment’s annual report, eco-activists have urged it to crack down on influential oknhas who allegedly flouted the Kingdom’s environmental protection laws.
A total of 278 cases of natural resource crimes were sent to Cambodian courts in the first 10 months of this year, the report said.
The crimes, uncovered by municipal and provincial environment rangers, resulted in 190 chainsaws, 153 manual saws, 315 motorbikes and 4,047 illegal animal traps being seized.
Some 507 culprits were educated on their crimes before being made to sign contracts promising that they would not break the law again, the ministry reported.
Heng Sros, an environmental advocate who also investigates such crimes, urged the government to crack down on powerful oknhas who are alleged to be flouting the Kingdom’s environmental laws by grabbing land and trading illicit timber.
Only 12 cases regarding the clearing of protected forestry and encroachment into protected forest land saw provincial departments cooperating with legal experts from the ministry, said the ministry’s report.
Minister of Environment Say Sam Al said at the ministry’s year-end conference that it relied on broad support from civil society and various institutions at the national and international level to continue its work.
Sam Al said: “The [ministry] and the National Council for Sustainable Development need technical and financial support from development partners to resolve the challenges.
“We still practise self-control and adhere to the principle of national sovereignty to guarantee that environmental protection, natural resource protection, biodiversity conservation and sustainable development can continue effectively.”
Sros told The Post that the ministry’s report did not convey the devastating scale of forestry and natural resource crimes committed through such things as illegal mining.
He said he feared the ministry was not taking strong enough measures to target the culprits – factions of powerful oknhas who allegedly commit their crimes freely, as impoverished Cambodians who transport timber using tractors and motorbikes are punished or made to confess.
“Look at large factories and companies that operate freely while profiting off the destruction of natural resources.
“The ministry should arrest the criminals who grab land and destroy natural resources, rather than just arrest the needy that have no land,” he said.