Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NGOs, military police join forces in logging crackdown

NGOs, military police join forces in logging crackdown

A pile of smouldering logs sits in a Mondulkiri ELC belonging to Binh Phuoc Kratie Rubber 1 last month after they were allegedly burned in an attempt to conceal forestry crimes. Photo supplied
A pile of smouldering logs sits in a Mondulkiri ELC belonging to Binh Phuoc Kratie Rubber 1 last month after they were allegedly burned in an attempt to conceal forestry crimes. Photo supplied

NGOs, military police join forces in logging crackdown

Six prominent conservation groups yesterday vowed to help a military police task force fight illegal logging near the eastern border yesterday. However, scepticism persists that the highly publicised operation, which has resulted in few arrests, is merely for show.

Leaders from Wildlife Alliance, WWF-Cambodia, Wildlife Conservation Society, Conservation International, Fauna & Flora International and Birdlife International met with military police chief Sao Sokha, the leader of the anti-logging task force created last month by Prime Minister Hun Sen, at national military police headquarters in Phnom Penh yesterday morning.

The NGOs, which had requested the meet, agreed to provide information about illegal logging in the protected areas they help patrol with local authorities.

Sokha yesterday appointed senior official Hong Vinol, head of the military police’s information and security department, to act as liaison between the task force and the NGOs.

“The six NGOs assured the Chairman that they will provide information as requested on illegal logging to assist the committee in its further investigations,” a press release issued by the NGOs said.

Meanwhile, in the latest development from the crackdown, Mondulkiri military police chief Sak Sarang said the anti-logging task force had inspected 860 cubic metres of timber at the Unigreen land concession in Koh Nhek district and almost 4,000 cubic metres on the Binh Phuoc concession in Keo Seima district.

Last week, local journalist Van Tith was detained and questioned by Sarang for alleging in a TV report that the commander was himself a timber trader for Binh Phuoc, allegations strongly denied by Sarang but which multiple local officials and activists said they believed to be true.

Sarang declined to provide further details of the investigation, as did military police spokesman Eng Hy, explaining that authorities were still measuring timber and sending reports to prosecutors.

“There are companies and people involved that will be sent to court,” he said.

The case of Sarang’s alleged relationship with Binh Phuoc is emblematic of the criticisms that have dogged the anti-logging campaign since its beginning.

Sao Sokha himself was accused of profiting from illegal logging in the 2000s, while prominent tycoon Try Pheap, who has long been accused of laying waste to vast stretches of forest, holds the legal right to collect any timber seized by authorities.

Given that only a handful of lower-level arrests have occurred so far, some observers have suggested that the campaign might be more focused on centralising the lucrative industry rather than eliminating it.

That could put the six NGOs that pledged to support the task force in a tight spot.

Ross Sinclair, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Cambodia program, acknowledged the criticisms – but said that NGOs were taking the campaign “on face value”.

According to Sinclair, the campaign has produced concrete results in the field, leading to a “noticeable decrease” in timber smuggling and other illegal activities in the forest.

“Nothing would be served at this early stage to not [participate],” he said.

WWF Cambodia country director Chhith Sam Ath also defended cooperation with the task force.

“So far, we have seen that after the prakas was issued [by the prime minister], that illegal logging has gone down,” he said.

But Ouch Leng, director of the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force, said the mystery shrouding the committee’s activities remained suspect.

“They keep saying they’re investigating, but there are never any results of the investigation,” he said.

“If all the okhnas [a government-granted honorific held by some wealthy businessmen] and companies have legitimate licenses, the committee should show these publicly . . . if they do not, it shows they are working secretly with the okhnas.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Cambodia's Bokator now officially in World Heritage List

    UNESCO has officially inscribed Cambodia’s “Kun Lbokator”, commonly known as Bokator, on the World Heritage List, according to Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona in her brief report to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of November 29. Her report, which was

  • NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

    Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge

  • Sub-Decree approves $30M for mine clearance

    The Cambodian government established the ‘Mine-Free Cambodia 2025 Foundation’, and released an initial budget of $30 million. Based on the progress of the foundation in 2023, 2024 and 2025, more funds will be added from the national budget and other sources. In a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen

  • Two senior GDP officials defect to CPP

    Two senior officials of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) have asked to join the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), after apparently failing to forge a political alliance in the run-up to the 2023 general election. Yang Saing Koma, chairman of the GDP board, and Lek Sothear,

  • Cambodia's poverty cut in half from 2009 to 2019: World Bank report

    A report published by the World Bank on November 28 states that Cambodia’s national poverty rate fell by almost half between 2009 and 2019, but the Covid-19 pandemic recently reversed some of the poverty reduction progress. Cambodia’s poverty rate dropped from 33.8 to 17.8 per cent over the 10