A COALITION of local human rights NGOs have applauded the removal of the Forestry Administration’s director as part of a recent crackdown on illegal logging, but have called on the government to take additional action to ensure the full eradication of forestry crimes.
At a press conference Friday, Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the firing of Ty Sokun was an example to powerful officials who are profiting from the illicit trade in timber.
“It is a warning for the next person that if they fail to crack down on the crime they will be jailed,” he said, but added that from here on out there will be no excuses if the law is not implemented.
“Hun Sen has paved the way for the next person to enforce the crackdown effectively. There are no more difficult people you can’t take action against – if you can’t do it, it means that you are incapable,” he said.
Since a request from the prime minister in January, authorities have raided over a hundred warehouses suspected of holding illegal timber.
Despite the strong government measures, however, some villagers are concerned that trees are being felled illegally despite the crackdown on timber sales.
Seng Sok Heng, a representative from Oddar Meanchey province, said his community’s reports of logging were generally ignored.
“We still see that in the forest, the cutting down of trees is still continuing,” he said. “We want the authorities to go to the forest and investigate.”
He added: “Some of our villagers have been threatened when we try to protect the forest.”
Last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that Ty Sokun had been removed from his post at the Forestry Administration for his failure to accelerate the crackdown on forestry crimes.
Ty Sokun has since been appointed to the position of undersecretary of state in the Ministry of Agriculture, and Hun Sen has said the new forestry chief, Chheng Kim Son, should arrest anyone who breaks the country’s Forestry Law.
On Wednesday, international anti-graft watchdog Global Witness cheered the move, but said that Ty Sokun should be charged for his alleged connection to illegal logging, detailed by the group in its 2007 report Cambodia’s Family Trees.
“It is a good thing he is gone, but he shouldn’t be let off the hook for what happened while he was in charge,” Simon Taylor, Global Witness Director, said in a statement Wednesday.
The statement added that the Cambodian government “has a lot more to do if it wants to prove it is serious about protecting the country’s remaining forests and managing its other natural resources sustainably”.
Kheng Tito, spokesman for military police, could not be reached, but said last week that 14 people taken into custody after being arrested on forestry charges included government officials, and that the government would spare no one after Hun Sen gave the green light to eradicate logging crimes.
Chheng Kim Son declined to comment Sunday.