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‘Mondulkiri rife with forest crimes’

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A truck transporting timber overturned on Thursday evening in Mondulkiri province’s Sen Monorom commune, O’Raing district. Meatophoum News

‘Mondulkiri rife with forest crimes’

A truck transporting timber overturned on Thursday evening, killing one person and injured another.

The incident at Sen Monorom commune, in Mondulkiri province’s O’Raing district, has added spark to the ongoing debate on forest crimes in the province.

The province’s traffic police bureau director Yoem Chanta said the truck had all the proper documents required to transport timber.

The incident nevertheless caused a debate among government officials and civil society.

On the same day as the accident, Pheng Vannak, an Interior Ministry official, accused Svay Sam Eang, Mondulkiri governor, of turning a blind eye to forest crimes.

He wrote on his Facebook page: “His Excellency could only lie to Grade 1 students. The province of Mondulkiri that Your Excellency oversees has more serious deforestation cases than any other provinces.”

On the following day, the province’s forest administration director Um Vann Sopheak spoke to local media and dismissed Vannak’s remarks by calling it “baseless”.

Sam Eang declined to comment on the allegation.

‘Taking action’

Last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the deployment of helicopters above the Kingdom’s forests to monitor and take action against illegal logging activities.

But despite such efforts, representatives of ethnic communities in the province claim that cross-border logging continuously happens on a large scale.

One community representative, Kreung Tola, said illegal timber trafficking to Vietnam is still rampant. He said about 30 to 70 trucks headed for Vietnam every day.

On the loss to the state caused by illegal timber trafficking, he said: “Transporting timber has damaged roads. The state spends its budget on [damaged road] but the traffickers keep transporting timber without control."

“Most of them also evade tax and do not have proper documents for their vehicles. Deforestation affects natural water sources, wildlife habitats and becomes a burden to the state budget.”

Tola also claimed that there is collusion between the perpetrators and officers on the border.

Mondulkiri Provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries director Song Kheang dismissed the allegation.

The ministry’s spokesman Srey Vuthy urged those who witnessed illegal logging activities, including the trafficking of timber, to report the matter to the relevant authorities.

“Please report so that our officers can act in a timely manner,” he said.

In late August, Ministry of Interior secretary of state Sak Setha ordered the authorities from Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri and Stung Treng provinces to crack down on forest crimes.

His directive was based upon receiving a letter from an EU delegate, showing a report on “systematic crimes in illegal timber trade from Cambodia to Vietnam”.

The report, released by a UK-based NGO, The Environmental Investigation Agency, on May 31, revealed findings on large-scale logging activities taking place in those provinces, particularly at the Virak Chey national park, Phnom Prich sanctuary and the national forest north of the lower Sesan power dam.

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