The Ministry of Environment seized 145 logged trees from Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary in Kampong Speu on Saturday after receiving a tip from an NGO which, claiming inaction on the part of local authorities, had petitioned the ministry’s leadership directly.
Minister Say Sam Al personally ordered the raid, which found no signs of the perpetrators. Sao Sopheap, ministry spokesman, said they do not have enough rangers to patrol the large wildlife sanctuary and welcomed any future tips from NGOs.
“The timber was logged inside the royal decree-protected forest of Oral Wildlife Sanctuary and the loggers hid it under a tent,” said Chea Hean, director of the Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organisation.
“I called Minister Say Sam Al directly for intervention because environmental officers in the province had not taken action.”
Keat Rangsey, head of the provincial environmental department, yesterday denied these allegations and insisted that his staff is working to crack down on forest crime in the sanctuary.
“We saw the timber, and our officers were deployed to take care of it. Now we are looking for a vehicle to take it to our station office,” Rangsey said.
Minister Say Sam Al yesterday confirmed personally giving the order but declined to discuss details.
Last week, multiple forestry watchdogs expressed doubt that the government’s logging crackdown in the east of Cambodia had produced significant, sustainable results, saying that logging and smuggling of timber to Vietnam was continuing despite claims to the contrary.
In a separate weekend incident, 12 people were arrested by Mondulkiri forestry officials on Saturday, after they were caught logging timber in the Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary.
According to Chhit Sophal, chief of the provincial department of environment, the suspects are being kept at his station, pending legal action.
“We are working with the court on the case. We are not sure how we will deal with them, but now they are with us,” he said.
The raid saw forestry officials confiscate almost 30 logs of luxury timber, six mini-tractors, four chainsaws and other logging equipment.
The suspects hail from Sre Ches commune in Kratie’s Sambor district, which is located near the sanctuary.