The Ministry of Environment has received a petition from more than 20 NGOs and community members requesting the right to conduct patrols in protected areas, and urging increased enforcement of natural resource crimes.
The ministry said it had strategies and policies that protected and conserved natural resources in place already, and was carrying out its work responsibly and professionally.
Twenty institutions, including civil society organisations, environmental activists and students, also submitted the same petition to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on March 29. They urged the ministries to live up to the commitments stated in the National Forest Programme 2010-2029. As part of the programme, they set the goal of increasing forest cover to 60 per cent of the country by 2029.
“They must tackle natural resource crimes, punish illegal timber traders, as well as investigating any type of corruption that causes the loss of natural resources in Cambodia,” the petition said.
The petitions added that they should monitor the approval of economic concession contracts and licenses and encourage civil society organisations and local communities to join their investigations – to ensure transparency and avoid systematic collusion.
It added that the authorities need to carry out an investigation and release a public report regarding the 211 tonnes of smuggled timber found by the Hong Kong Customs Authority last May.
Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra called the group “political activists operating under the cover of environment and natural resources protectors”. He suggested they stop speaking off the cuff and conduct some real reforestation work to please their donors.
He added that they should be finding solutions to change livelihoods and provide new options for people – as the ministry has been doing – to raise the living standards of the people living around conservation areas, so that they will not continue to rely entirely on natural resources.
“Do not merely issue statements and negative comments. Take some real action – and tell your donors to do the same. Why not actually join the government in its work of protecting natural resources instead of just showing love for conservation on the surface?” he said.
Pheaktra added that the ministry welcomes the participation of any parties, as long as they obey the law and are honest in their cooperation. The ministry has collaborated successfully closely with many associations and NGOs, he said.
“We do not become obsessed with stardom as certain groups do,” he added.
In the Strategy for Carbon Neutrality 2050, Cambodia was committed to cutting deforestation by half by 2030 and stopping it completely by 2045, he said.
In order to achieve the goal of increased forest cover, Cambodia will promote tree planting and improve forest management and reforestation, as well as the full implementation of the REDD + investment plan by 2050.
Pheaktra added that Cambodia currently has more than 8.5 million ha of forest cover, or about 46.86 per cent of the country, of which 41 per cent is under the protection of the ministry.
Cambodia had also sold carbon credits in the international market and used the proceeds to strengthen the management, conservation and development of local communities. The Kingdom was optimistic that it would receive more funding from the sale of carbon credits and sustainable timber.