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Minister defends work at Assembly

Environment Minister Say Samal speaks to the press after being questioned by the environment commission at the National Assembly yesterday in Phnom Penh.
Environment Minister Say Samal speaks to the press after being questioned by the environment commission at the National Assembly yesterday in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Minister defends work at Assembly

Environment Minister Say Samal defended his ministry’s performance at the National Assembly yesterday, saying that while illegal logging was still taking place, significant inroads had been made since a Hun Sen-mandated crackdown began last year.

Samal was questioned during a two-and-a-half hour closed-door session with the assembly’s third commission, which oversees environmental matters, among other issues.

Commission head Pol Ham, a senior CNRP lawmaker, told reporters after the meeting that reports of illegal logging along with complaints of garbage not being collected in certain areas of the capital had prompted the body to summon Samal for responses.

“We acknowledge that the ministry and government have worked hard for the protection of natural resources,” Ham said. “But we wanted to know more about what the next action will be to combat the problems that remain. Illegal logging activities have not yet been eliminated 100 percent.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen in January of last year ordered the creation of an anti-logging committee to spearhead a crackdown on forestry crime, but locals and NGOs in the eastern provinces have since claimed that illegal logging has continued unabated, and no arrests of high-level timber traders have taken place.

Samal yesterday told reporters that illegal logging activities have taken a dip since the crackdown efforts began, but conceded more needed to be done.

We “still need additional actions to eliminate” the problem, he said.

He said officials were continuing to investigate cases of illegal logging and the suspects behind them, but declined to provide more details.

A Post examination of 100 incidents since Hun Sen’s call for a crackdown, showed that 10 months in, only 25 percent of incidents had resulted in arrests or fines.

Reached after the session, Samal confirmed that Interior Minister Sar Kheng has asked his ministry to convene a meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture to discuss what has been done about natural resource crimes and what challenges officials face.

Samal said both ministries will meet soon and that a report on natural resources, with a focus on forests and fisheries, would be submitted to Kheng after it is finalised. He declined to comment on the report until it’s released.

Conservationist Marcus Hardtke said despite the ostensible crackdown on illegal logging, the overall trajectory of these crimes hasn’t changed.

“The problem is pretty much alive in Cambodia,” he said, noting the widespread skepticism surrounding pledges to eliminate illegal logging.

“Now, we have almost all the forest under protection, but we don’t really see implementation on the ground,” he said.

Seng Sokheng, with the Prey Lang Community Network, agreed that illegal logging has not decreased. He said that illegal loggers can be seen transporting wood almost every night in provinces like Pursat, Kratie and Kampong Speu.

Loggers are now using smaller trucks and even minivans for their transport, he said. “We still see illegal logging every day,” he said.

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