Members of the Khnong Veal community claim that forest crimes are continuing to occur at an alarming rate in the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary in Kampong Speu province, especially in the dense forest near Phnom Khnong Veal in Tasal commune.

Vy Ran, a representative of the community, in Oral district’s Tasal commune, told The Post that they had discovered around 30 large trees that that been felled.

“We were patrolling Kokir Thma and Reach Kol, on the way up to Phnom Khnong Veal, in late April when we found them,” he said.

“I could not say precisely when the trees were cut down, but based on the cuts and the amount of sawdust still on the scene, it was no more than a few days before our patrol arrived,” he added.

He believed that the deforestation was likely the work of people from Kampot province.

“On April 25, three men bought food and drink from my village. They said they lived in Kampot province and planned to camp in Phnom Khnong Veal for three days.

“They told us they were hoping to see some wildlife and wanted to admire some of the dense forests and waterfalls that our mountainous region has to offer,” he said.

Tan Kim Sour – the leader of Baitong Warriors, a group of volunteers that patrol the forests – told The Post that many loggers had taken to disguising themselves as tourists in order to avoid unwanted attention from local villagers.

“Camping in the forest and other forms of eco-tourism have become very popular. Many people enjoy communing with nature. Unfortunately, illegal loggers are using the popularity of forest recreation as cover for their crimes,” he explained.

“This is happening in almost all of the Kingdom’s wildlife protection and conservation areas, especially in remote mountainous areas, where most villagers prefer to farm and harvest non-timber forest products to provide for their families,” he said.

He noted that Phnom Khnong Veal is a natural tourist area with dense forests and many species of rare and endangered wildlife, including gaur, banteng, bears, elephants and Siamese crocodiles.

“My team and I have discovered many hectares of land that has been cleared illegally in the Oral sanctuary. Sometimes the timber is felled, milled and sold, and sometimes it is used to make charcoal,” he said.

Kampong Speu provincial environment department deputy director Nov Nak, who is responsible for protecting the sanctuary, told The Post on May 1 that he had dispatched rangers to work with the community and search for the loggers who were behind the latest crime.

“At this time, I have not yet received a detailed written report from the rangers,” he said.