Environmental NGOs expressed concerns this week about a requirement from the Ministry of Environment to get advanced permission to patrol the Prey Lang protected forest, saying doing so could lead to illegal loggers getting tipped off, given the history of collusion with officials in the area.
The Independent Student Network Group on Tuesday released an open letter after the restrictions were first mentioned at an environmental forum in late November. “We do not support the measure whatsoever,” the letter reads.
Heng Srors, 26, a member of the group, said he hoped the Ministry of Environment “would reconsider their request for the national interest in [the] protection [of] the forest”.
Sao Sopheap, a ministry spokesman, couldn’t be reached for comment.
At the forum last month, Environment Minister Say Sam Al suggested community members who wish to patrol work with local rangers for safety reasons, as illegal loggers can pose dangers. NGOs, rangers and environmental officials, he said, needed to work together to prepare patrols.
“I request you to work with provincial authorities,” he said. “But if they want to go on their own, they must also tell [authorities] about the date [and] location because they do not go anywhere they want.”
While Srors agreed that patrolling with rangers is safer, he said it delivers fewer results.
“When we patrol with authority forces or rangers, we sometimes do not manage to arrest the loggers because they escape earlier,” he said. “The loggers might be alerted.”
Seng Sokheng, with the Community Peace Building Network, shared the same concern. If NGOs have to seek permission from the ministry or provincial environmental departments, some officials “can call or tell illegal loggers at Prey Lang before we get to Prey Lang”.
“It’s kind of supporting illegal loggers in Prey Lang,” he said of the requirement. Sokheng added that the new requirements could be part of a wider push to intimidate and limit NGO activities.
Marcus Hardtke, a long-time anti-logging activist, said under the existing legal framework people have the right to protect and preserve natural resources in their areas.
“Systematic collusion between officials and illegal loggers has been well documented over the years and is [a] key issue for forest management in Cambodia,” he wrote in an email.