Some 70 NGO representatives, forest activists and university students signed an open letter urging the government to find ways to prevent and combat forestry crimes more effectively.
In their petition released on Saturday, the group said they had been observing the government’s clampdowns over the past year and found that it “remains reluctant to protect the forest”.
Citing instances, the group claimed the authorities had failed to shutter unauthorised sawmills and other timber-processing facilities across the country.
Meanwhile, the group continued, the owners behind the illegal operations had sent their workers to continue logging activities in various protected areas across the country.
The group also claimed the government’s failure to fully revoke permits for the transportation of timber and other forestry products had allowed for timber smuggling across the border.
They said the opening of timber stock warehouses at various locations in the form of the One-Window Service – which was introduced to expedite the process of paperwork – had exacerbated smuggling and made it easy for companies to obtain permits for the transportation of their illegally logged timber.
The One-Window Service, they alleged, had allowed for collusion between the relevant authorities and timber traders.
Forest activist Heng Sros called on the government to shut down all businesses dealing in timber from protected areas.
He said without citing sources that the government’s revenues generated from the timber business over past years were less than donors’ funds allocated for environment protection in the Kingdom.
The revenues, he claimed, were also less than those generated from the Kingdom’s carbon sales and eco-tourism industry.
“We’ve found that the export of luxury wood to Vietnam, which is not on a small scale, amounted to half a million cubic metres a year. The timber was exported by three companies in Pursat province and some other firms in Stung Treng, Mondulkiri, Ratanakkiri, Kampong Thom and Preah Vihear,” he said.
He urged the government to prevent timber the businesses from clearing natural forests in all forms, stop issuing licences and timber export permits, and shutter sawmills and all timber-processing facilities across the country.
Som Taing Y, a 20-year-old student from the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), said he was concerned about the ultimate loss of the Kingdom’s natural resources, which he said contributed to climate change.
“I’ve visited forest communities in Mondulkiri and witnessed the destruction. They [loggers] cleared forest and transport timber [for export] every day. Forest activists alone cannot stop them.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
But Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said on Sunday the government remained committed to strict enforcement and natural resource protection.
He called on the public to join the government in the fight against illegal logging and conservation of the Kingdom’s natural resources and biodiversity.
“The government has been strengthening the implementation of the law. Offenders involved in natural resource crimes have been arrested according to legal procedures,” he said.
Eng Hy, the spokesman for the National Military Police and National Committee for Prevention and Crackdown on Natural Resource Crimes, told The Post on Sunday that the relevant authorities had done their part to enforce the law but could not act beyond their mandate.
“The committee’s responsibilities are to prevent and combat forestry crimes. So if they [timber firms] follow the law, we have no right to close their sawmills. I encourage those activists to please send their requests to the local authorities or relevant ministries,” he said.
The Post could not reach Srey Vuthy, the secretary-general of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, or and Keo Omalis, the government delegate in charge of Forestry Administration, for comment.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has recently laid out natural resource protection measures, including the cancellation of permits for the transportation of timber out of land concessions and the annulment of licences for companies failing to follow the law and their contracts.
Hun Sen has also authorised relevant authorities to freeze the assets of anyone found to be involved in forestry crimes and to carve their names on a stone at the locations where their logging materials are destroyed.