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Gov’t rejects logging claims

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Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra visits rangers at a wildlife sanctuary. Yousos Apdoulrashim

Gov’t rejects logging claims

The Ministry of Environment has rejected reports by Amnesty International and the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) that large-scale illegal logging has increased in Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary since PLCN was banned from patrolling the area.

Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post on February 28 that the groups’ reports amounted to an organised campaign with malicious intent to subvert the government on the management and conservation of natural resources.

“They think that only their group is the only natural resources protector. In fact, they just want to cause conflict, create anarchy and continue to encourage law abuses,” he said.

He added that this is an insult to the dedication of park rangers and protected area communities who are striving hard for the protection and conservation of natural resources.

According to Pheaktra, Amnesty International’s February 5 report is incorrect and is intended to discredit the government under the cover of human rights, freedom and democracy. The organisation, he said, tends to provide support to those who violate the law without shame and encourage them to continue breaking the law.

Pheaktra said the ministry does not need to respond to the PLCN report which he claimed does not reflect the facts and were prepared and compiled with the support of foreigners. The sanctuary, he added, is only presented in a negative light, and it only seeks support for the group’s activities.

“This report is also not up-to-date, as the environment ministry and its partners’ operations throughout 2020 have achieved good results in preventing and cracking down on natural resource crime,” he said.

Pheaktra acknowledged that forestry crimes continue to occur in protected areas, including the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, but only on a small scale.

The PLCN’s February 27 report said: “Satellite imagery data on deforestation has been linked to an increase in PLCN patrol bans and an increase in illegal logging by companies operating near the Prey Lang area.”

It called on the government to implement existing regulations and laws about protecting forests and the public to participate in natural resource protection.

Khem Sokhy, a PLCN member in Preah Vihear province, said that since the environment ministry banned PLCN from patrolling the area in February 2020, forestry crimes keep happening.

He said there were fewer cases of forestry crimes before PLCN was banned because perpetrators were scared.

“If the environment ministry chooses to work on it [natural resources protection] alone while there are not enough officers to cover almost half-a-million hectares, offenders will take advantage of this [loophole].

“If the ministry maintains its [sole] authority, the forest will keep being destroyed,” he said.

According to Pheaktra, however, the ministry has recently cooperated with the National Committee for the Prevention and Crackdown on Natural Resource Crimes to address the issue in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary.

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