The National Committee for the Prevention of and Crackdown on Natural Resource Crimes said that burning vehicles used to transport timbers seized by the authorities is in line with the laws, as they endanger the country’s forests.

The committee made the clarification in a December 31 press release, after Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC) president Sok Touch posted a video on social media showing burning vehicles with critical comments.

Touch said that destroying the timber or the vehicles was a waste of resources because they are inanimate objects and neither good nor bad in and of themselves. He said it is the people who committed these crimes that should be arrested and jailed.

The post drew support among some users who criticised the committee over the practice.

The committee said it had tracked 76 comments by social media users and referred to them as being “exaggerated”.

The comments, it said, were incitement, unprofessional and immoral because they failed to weigh the facts and that the critics did not understand the laws.

The committee said the vehicles were burned to deter forestry crimes and to preserve forests because they had caused danger to people or property, noting that they are illegal possessions and could not be returned to the owners, sold or used by the government.

“We had seized the objects as state property and have to destroy them. We have so far destroyed them according to the law. The homemade vehicles are illegal and violate the road traffic laws. These vehicles were not means that could be used for the good of society,” it said.

The committee said it had performed its tasks to combat and crack down on natural resource crimes since 2016 according to the forestry law, the protected area laws, the Criminal Code and relevant legal standards.

December 26, the committee held an annual meeting to review the progress of its work and set future directions in order to make a report to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The meeting attendees concluded that natural resource crimes had persisted in the country, but they had now changed from large-scale crimes previously to small ones carried out by people trying to support traditional family livelihoods.

The committee set new goals for ministries, institutions and other authorities to continue to strengthen and combat logging and inspect timber being stored or sold at depots or moved through timber-processing facilities to discover any businesses or enterprises that may be purchasing illegal timber.