Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Impunity threatens Mondulkiri preserves

Impunity threatens Mondulkiri preserves

Participants speak at the WWF-hosted dissemination workshop on the past four years of conservation in the Eastern Plains Landscape of the Kingdom yesterday in Phnom Penh.
Participants speak at the WWF-hosted dissemination workshop on the past four years of conservation in the Eastern Plains Landscape of the Kingdom yesterday in Phnom Penh.

Impunity threatens Mondulkiri preserves

A commitment to law enforcement is needed to combat the serious threats to Mondulkiri’s protected areas, stakeholders said yesterday, noting that a failure to address systemic problems not only jeopardises local ecosystems, but threatens an ambitious, widely promoted plan to reintroduce tigers to the Kingdom.

Speaking at a workshop hosted by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) on the past four years of conservation in the so-called Eastern Plains Landscape – a project with $1.42 million in funding from the EU and an additional $420,000 from USAID and the WWF – conservationists and representatives of ethnic minority communities pointed to the widespread destruction of forests and wildlife, including within the Srepok and Keo Seima wildlife sanctuaries, that occurs with total impunity.

“Immediately after the interception [of loggers or poachers], there is a phone call ordering to release them immediately,” said Moul Phath, the manager of the Eastern Plains Landscape at WWF-Cambodia. According to Phath, until authorities can act independently and without fear of the rich and powerful patrons of the illegal logging industry, the destruction of the ecosystem will remain a pressing problem.

“We need to change the behaviour of the influential people who keep on intervening in these cases,” he said.

Phath further pointed to the presence of some 63 sawmills – of which only five are licensed – operating within the area.

A 62-year-old Phnong ethnic community member from Koh Nhek district, Rouch Chork, claimed to have witnessed such practices, citing that most often authorities will release offenders caught by community patrols, seizing only the evidence. A preponderance of reporting by The Post also points to the phenomenon of authorities seizing timber but failing to arrest perpetrators.

Ahead of the dry season, Chork noted, “many people are buying wire and other materials to make snares”.

Rohit Singh, a wildlife law enforcement specialist for the WWF, noted that the average square kilometre of forest in the region has five deer, four snares and zero rangers.

“With this situation it’s possibly difficult” to bring back tigers, he said.

Well documented cross-border poaching and logging continues to be an issue as well, according to Phath, though he was clear that forestry crimes committed by perpetrators coming from Vietnam are not the only issue: local migrants as well as local community members commit such crimes “continuously”.

“[Locals and migrants] said that they have no options . . . only the timber trade, which can provide high and fast income. But they forget to think whether in the future there will be trees for them to log,” he said.

For Phath, it’s no longer a question of informing people about the law when it comes to forestry crimes.

“We need to stop talking about education and enforce the law,” he said, pointing to the clear example of how domestic tourists will often travel to Mondulkiri and want to eat wildlife meat at restaurants whose owners are fully aware of the illegality of selling it. What’s more, he said that members of the armed forces, as well as educated individuals from all walks of life, harvest wild animals for food, medicine or trophies.

Of particular concern, he said, are the personnel guarding mining operations within protected areas that in some cases have even shot elephants.

Responding to Phath’s assertions at the workshop, Sung Kheang, the director of the Mondulkiri Agriculture Department – which is charged with enforcing forestry laws – downplayed and denied the severity of the issue, acknowledging only some “gaps” in law enforcement.

“Every crime related to natural resources, authorities and experts have intercepted a lot. We have not let the perpetrators go free,” he said.

Mondulkiri Deputy Governor Peng Sambath, meanwhile, lamented that authorities could do more if they had more resources and help from partner organisations.

The lack of enforcement appears especially severe when the 20 rangers committed to the 3,700 square kilometres of Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary is compared to those in India’s Panna Tiger Reserve, which at less than half the size has some 800 rangers and 140 scientific and support staff.

“Until we improve the protected area management [tiger reintroduction] is not going to work,” Singh said, further noting that consultation on developments such as ELCs, roads or mines should incorporate the tiger programme.

A previous version of this article misstated the amount of EU funding for a four-year project in Mondulkiri’s Eastern Plains Landscape. The correct figure is $1.42 million, with additional funding from other sources. The Post apologises for the error.

MOST VIEWED

  • Trio from Cambodia earn gold medals at int’l math olympiad

    Three Cambodian students won gold awards in the grade 12 math competition at the Singapore and Asian Schools Math Olympiads (SASMO). A total of 33,679 candidates from 28 countries competed in the tough contest. Lim Chhingy, was the highest ranked among the three. “Of the grade 12 students, I

  • Historic Battambang town bans billboards

    The Battambang town administration informed all house and business owners in Svay Por commune to remove all billboards by August 1 as it is preparing to submit the town to UNESCO for inclusion on its historical cultural heritage list. Its July 25 notice said all signage was

  • All foreigners' accommodations to be inspected: Sar Kheng

    The Ministry of Interior is undertaking a serious effort to inspect all the accommodations of foreigners in Cambodia – except diplomats – in order to find and identify human traffickers. Minister Sar Kheng said this would include inspections on the homes of foreigners employed by businesses, private

  • Ice cream, noodles flagged over carcinogen

    The General Department of Customs and Excise of Cambodia (GDCE) has identified three types of instant noodles and ice cream trademarks originating from Thailand, Vietnam and France that are suspected to contain ethylene oxide, which poses a cancer risk to consumers. The general department has

  • Exclusive interview with Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the EU

    CAMBODIA is hosting the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and Related Meetings this week with top officials from the US, China, and Russia and other countries in the region slated to attend and to meet with face-to-face with their counterparts on the sidelines. In

  • Compulsory vehicle insurance on the cards

    The government plans to introduce compulsory insurance for private vehicles to make sure that health and property costs for victims of road crashes are protected, according to Ministry of Economy and Finance secretary of state Ros Seilava. This would make Cambodia the last country in