The Ministry of Environment is extending the strategies it employs to combat wildlife crimes to include money laundering and terrorism financing.

Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said it is also forming an environmental code to tighten enforcement of natural resource crimes, especially the illegal wildlife trade.

“The trade in wild animals is a crime which generates profits, so this crime should be extended to money laundering and terrorist financing as a means of strengthening financial prosecution. The ministry intends to implement these laws, in addition to the existing laws on protected areas,” he said.

Speaking at a press conference launching the zero-snare campaign at the Tmat Boey Thoeun Krasang community forest within the Kulen Prum Tep Wildlife Sanctuary in Preah Vihear province’s Choam Ksan district on May 16, he said that all judicial police officers from the ministry who were stationed in protected areas have already had orders to prosecute anyone who broke the protected area laws.

These offences, which range from misdemeanours to felonies, are to be expanded to include the financial crimes of money laundering and terrorist financing.

He said that should the government strictly enforce each natural resource management law, it would have widely affected people who traditionally rely on natural resources.

“I think that now it is time for us to revisit our laws and amend some articles. The ministry is preparing an environmental code, which could also be used to mandate offences,” he said.

He added that specialist officers would examine the code and suggest whether fines and punishments should be increased, as natural resources – not just wild animals – were on the decline, not only in Cambodia, but throughout the world.

He said the downward trend in global biodiversity accounted for an almost 70 per cent reduction in nearly 70 years. The problem presented challenges which required adaptation of current measures, as efficiency needed to be increased – and so did management precision – if biodiversity was to recover, he added.

Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodia (WCS Cambodia) director Ken Serey Rotha considered the new concept of an environmental code a visionary idea, and civil society organisations, especially those working on natural resources conservation, welcomed the initiative.

“This code will set the future direction for conservation work, so we can carry it out and protect biodiversity and forests. This code will help a lot with the legal framework of conserving natural resources,” he added.

Pheaktra said that in its efforts to prevent natural resource crime, the ministry tried to improve local economies and change the habits of the people who used to go to the forest to log trees and hunt wild animals, by presenting options and new jobs to the people living around and in natural protected areas.

He added that the creation of strong local economies was a practical measure to protect and conserve forests and wildlife. The ministry did not sit idly and watch the degradation of protected land, but kept the forests sustainable, using the slogan “Keep timbers standing to earn income”.

He noted that 182 protected area communities have been established and recognised by the ministry to date, each of which had joined the government in taking responsibility for the protection and conservation of natural resources.