Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday urged relevant authorities to stamp out the export of timber abroad without authorisation and transparency.
Speaking during an annual meeting of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on Thursday, Hun Sen called on officials to work together in combating forestry crimes and speedily demarcate forest land and flooded forest to prevent further encroachment.
“The National Committee for Forestry Crime Prevention headed by [National Military Police commander] Sao Sokha shall continue to strengthen the management of natural resources and in particular prevent the unauthorised export of timber and forestry products of all types abroad through both [international] border checkpoints and along corridors,” he said.
According to a report released by the ministry, the number of forestry crimes involving logging and poaching totalled 1,093 cases last year, a decrease of 335 cases compared to 2017.
Of the 1,093 cases, 582 resulted in fines and 511 were sent to court. Fisheries crimes, the report said, totalled 3,204 cases, a decrease of 721 cases compared to the previous year.
Civil society organisations and local forest protection communities claim forestry crimes have continued unabated. They have said that when combating the crimes, authorities only confiscate illegally logged timber and fail to detain perpetrators for prosecution, prompting a repeat of the offences.
Pen Bunna, a community empowerment official at rights group Adhoc, said the culture of impunity has abetted forestry crimes.
He urged authorities to hunt down perpetrators regardless of their connections and social status and bring them to court. He added that authorities mostly seize timber left over by perpetrators in the forest.
“The figures are impressive, but they don’t reflect efficiency and effectiveness in combating the crimes. Although the number has decreased compared to previous years, the forest [throughout the Kingdom] is still huge."
“So if we roughly estimate the number of forestry crime, it would amount to no less than 100,000 cases. How many perpetrators have been arrested? Hardly any, especially the rich and powerful – they always evade arrest. It’s unacceptable to me and the communities who have been working to protect natural resources,” he said.
Phok Hong, a Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) member in Preah Vihear province, said she had seen no signs that forestry crimes involving logging and poaching in the province had decreased. She said sometimes the sound of sawing could be heard throughout the forest, with authorities turning a blind eye.
Hong claimed some officials had even colluded with perpetrators.
“I’m not blaming all officials because some of them are good and attentive. But some collude with offenders. Forestry crimes still happen again and again. When we patrol the forest, the perpetrators run away. But when we come back home, they return to continue their logging. They seem to have received a tip-off,” she said.
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries spokesman Srey Vuthy said: “Critics will be critics – they criticise us but have no idea how hard we have tried to stop the crimes. We have our difficulties, so if they spot forestry crimes anywhere and are unable to take action, they should report it directly to the ministries of Agriculture and Environment in order for us to help combat the crimes.
“The law states the forest belongs to us all, so we must help each other. Depending on the authorities alone would not be plausible,” he said.
According to a Ministry of Agriculture report, community forest had increased to 508,000ha covering 614 communities as of last year.
For January this year, the report said, forestry crimes involving logging and poaching totalled 58 cases, of which 30 resulted in fines and 28 sent to court.