A prominent forest activist based in Kampong Speu province is set to launch a field investigation into alleged illegal logging at the Phnom Oral and Phnom Kravanh wildlife sanctuaries despite “threats of arrest” by rangers and military officers in the area.
NGO Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organisation (NRWPO) director Chea Hean said his team has received reports of forestry crimes in the Phnom Oral sanctuary in Kampong Speu and the Phnom Kravanh sanctuary in Pursat province.
Hean said the threats came when his team attempted to probe alleged forestry crimes at the sanctuaries on Friday but was stopped by the officers at O’trav Sub-station II in Santre commune in Pursat province’s Phnom Kravanh district.
Hean claimed to have informed environment authorities before patrolling the area.
“Four military officers and park rangers armed with AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles banned us from entering the forest and threatened to arrest us on Ta Thom’s order,” he said, referring to the officers’ superior.
“They brought us to O’Trav [environment] sub-station II and checked our mobile phones before releasing us,” he added.
Hean said his team backed off to avoid confrontation that could affect future cooperation with relevant authorities in tackling forestry crimes. However, he said he will return to the area after receiving new reports of illegal logging there.
“I think if there is no logging taking place, they would not ban us like that. We will return to investigate forestry crimes there and find out who is involved before preparing a detailed report to relevant ministries and government leaders for further action,” he said.
Pursat provincial environment department director Pan Morakat told The Post on Tuesday that he had seen Hean’s letter to the Ministry of Environment about his planned patrol in the area, but he said the proposal was not approved by the ministry.
Morakat said the park rangers and military officers had “good intentions” and the prohibition was meant to ensure their safety. He said because network coverage in the area was unstable at the time, the officers decided not to join Hean’s team.
“We are keen to cooperate with all parties in preventing and tackling forestry crimes in wildlife sanctuaries and other protected areas in the interest of our country,” he said.
While acknowledging that logging in the area is not unusual given its remote location, he said it is not on a large scale as claimed.
Morakat claimed villagers nearby occasionally logged timber on a small scale just to build their homes and for other household purposes.
But Hean posted a video clip on his organisation’s Facebook page on Saturday showing timber hauling via assembled vehicles across the Ampil environment station in Pursat province’s Santre commune after his team left the area.
Hean said the timber was logged and hauled from the Phnom Oral and Phnom Kravanh wildlife sanctuaries.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post on Tuesday that while he welcomed public participation in forest protection, he urged all stakeholders to follow the law and cooperate with the authorities when tackling forestry crimes.
“There is no ban on Chea Hean and his team’s activities, but they were asked to hold up for their own safety. If they entered the forest and encountered armed loggers, they could be harmed. Chea Hean wanted to enforce the law but he actually violated the law,” Pheaktra said.