The Kuoy indigenous community in Preah Vihear province has called for relevant institutions to investigate the true scale of forest crimes in the Preah Roka Wildlife Sanctuary after finding 249 cases in August.

Thong Suth, a member of the Kuoy indigenous community in Promer village in Tbeng Meanchey district’s Promer commune, told The Post on September 7 that community patrols had conducted two investigations into forest crimes.

The first ran from July 30 to August 2 and the second from August 24-27, finding evidence of 249 cases of forest crime, including 286 planks and 313 timbers. Three buffaloes carrying timber and two power tillers had also been discovered.

Suth said that around 80 per cent of the valuable large trees in the Preah Roka forest sanctuary had now been cut down and removed, leaving only small specimens.

“If people really want to know, let [the relevant institutions] come in – I will present the evidence. The Preah Roka forest is empty today.

“At the beginning, the forestry administration seemed to be very strict against such crimes, but the environment has been even more affected since 2016,” Suth said

He called on all relevant institutions look into such forest crimes, without the community group who had carried out the inspections being accused of releasing false information.

“I would like to urge the Ministry of Environment and all relevant departments not to cast accusations. I want the community, officials and all ministries to join and work together,” Suth said.

Forest patrols in the Preah Roka Wildlife Sanctuary did not report to the authorities or environmental officials because, he said, they did not want the community observing the crimes taking place.

The community patrols were also barred from carrying out inspections, he added, being told they had no role in the monitoring of crime.

The Kuoy community on September 5 said in a statement that it was deeply disappointed by and concerned over the ignorance and inaction of relevant officials, which had led to forest crimes in the wildlife sanctuary increasing daily.

Most of the logging had been carried out on chheu teal, popel, koki, trach, duong chem, steang, trasek and kralanh tree species with a diameter of 40-140cm, it added.

The indigenous community said allowing forest crimes to continue was not meeting the government’s commitment to increasing forest cover by 60 per cent by 2029, as stated in the National Forest Programme to be implemented from 2010-29.

It was also failing the commitments of the 21st Conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris, which was bound to increasing forest cover by 60 per cent by 2030, the statement said.

Secretary of state at the Ministry of Environment Neth Pheaktra told The Post on August 7 that the ministry had no need to comment on any third-party report.

The Ministry of Environment continues in its efforts to manage and conserve natural resources responsibly and professionally, he added.

“The Ministry of Environment would like to inform that at present, large-scale forestry crimes no longer occur, and while there are still small-scale crimes, professional officials, particularly Ministry of Environment rangers, continue to prevent and crack down on them,” Pheaktra said.

He said that to conserve natural resources, Ministry of Environment park rangers had carried out 14,692 patrols in the first eight months of this year, from January 1 to August 15.

These had led to crack downs on 4,250 cases, most of which were illegal encroachment on state land.

Ministry of Environment rangers had confiscated 758 cubic meters of mixed sawn timber, and equipment including 1,724 chainsaws, 152 motorcycles, 138 power tillers, 51 trucks and seven tractors.

Some 26,588 animal snares had also been removed, with 344 homemade firearms confiscated.

Three hundred and fifty-three cases had been sent to court, and 258 had resulted in fines, while 1,167 had resulted in contracts to stop committing further crimes.