Local authorities have refuted claims by a Kuy ethnic minority group in Preah Vihear province that forest crimes persisted in Preah Roka Wildlife Sanctuary. They urged the community to collaborate with relevant authorities in joint efforts to preserve natural resources.

In a letter dated September 21, the group from Promer village of Tbaeng Meanchey district’s Promer commune said they had discovered over 80 instances of new crimes during their patrols within the sanctuary from September 1-4. They said they found 31 plank boards either kept or left behind by loggers.

They said the felled trees primarily comprise wood crucial to the community for resin by-products and include high-value varieties such as kokoh (Sindora siamensis), koki (Hopea odorata), sralao (Lagerstroemia calyculata) and chheuteal (Dipterocarpus alatus).

Thea Thim, an active youth in the community, reported that during a recent four-day patrol period alongside fellow community members in the sanctuary, they discovered 86 instances of illegal tree cutting by unidentified perpetrators.

He noted that the loggers proceeded with logging and timber transportation without encountering obstruction from park rangers or local authorities, whereas community members seeking permission to patrol the area are often required to furnish permit letters from the provincial Department of Environment.

He claimed that the illegally harvested wood originated from a wood processing depot that purchased it for distribution to other provinces.

As for the condition of the forest in this area, he said that it was once shrouded in near-impenetrable foliage, but now the landscape is marked by the conspicuous felling and burning of trees.

"If the officers are truly willing to protect, it is impossible for perpetrators to enter the forest and transport timber out. Therefore, we urge the local authorities and the Ministry of Environment to collaborate with the community. Please do not infringe upon our rights, so please do not hinder community patrols, otherwise not much will remain in the future," said Thim.

He added that with the recent revelation of forest crimes, the community is deeply saddened and concerned, saying they consistently encountered such instances during their patrols.

Ot Latin, a project coordinator for the NGO Cambodian Youth Network (CYN), expressed regret that crimes continue to be discovered within the protected area.

These areas have been officially designated as wildlife sanctuaries through government-issued sub-decrees.

He emphasised that environmental officials hold a significant responsibility for safeguarding the wildlife sanctuary. Therefore, if there is a genuine commitment to protecting the forest, there should be no requirement for joint reporting with the authorities to validate its authenticity.

"So, I believe the pertinent officers can visit the location we've indicated and inspect it with us. If the community provides a false report, they can take legal action against those making erroneous claims," he stated.

Sok Monirith, deputy governor of Tbaeng Meanchey district, confirmed that community reports are derived from patrols conducted independently of local authorities and environmental officers. Consequently, he added, it is not possible to accept community reports of all instances of crimes.

"Local authorities and environment officers are diligently working to conserve these natural resources. Despite some management challenges, we have put forth our best effort to safeguard the forests," he said.

Provincial environment department director Song Chan Socheat and ministry spokesperson Phay Bunchhoeun was unavailable for comment.