At least 73 people were detained this year and handed over to the environment authority by the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) for clearing forest in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, a huge nature reserve in northern Cambodia spanning four provinces.
The arrests were detailed in the PLCN’s 2018 report obtained by The Post on Wednesday.
According to the report, the loggers were not sent to court because “they committed minor offences for the first time”. They were released by park rangers after promising in writing to stop clearing forest, hunting wild animals and hauling forestry products.
Throughout this year, PLCN cooperated with park rangers in patrolling the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary in each of the four provinces, seizing 123 chainsaws; 41 home-made guns; planks and square timber totaling 64 cubic metres; five long-tail monkeys; 18 trucks; five buffalo carts; 847 animal traps; 14 cans of gasoline totaling 420 litres; and three electric devices.
The report also detailed challenges faced by rangers and PLCN members, which include death threats by loggers.
Srey Thei, PLCN’s head of coordinating committee in Preah Vihear province, told The Post on Wednesday that logging remains rampant in most parts of the province.
“Forestry crime still continues almost every day and it mostly takes place at night time, making a crackdown difficult for unarmed civilians like us while loggers are armed with guns,” he said.
Thei added that early this month, three loggers hailing from Kampong Thom province threatened to “slit the throat” of PLCN activists in Preah Vihear province while they were seizing 10 cubic metres of planks hidden in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary.
The PLCN activists and environment officials have filed a complaint against the trio to Preah Vihear provincial court.
“Despite the death threats, we will still prevent forestry and wildlife crimes because forest and wild animals are our lives,” Thei said.
Hoeun Sopheap, PLCN’s head of coordinating committee in Kampong Thom province, said forest and wild animals are a vital part of national culture that need to be protected and preserved with participation from all relevant parties, especially local people living in forest areas or wildlife sanctuaries.
“We are not hopeless although many people have yet to understand or appreciate the value of our efforts in protecting and preserving forest and wild animals in the Prey Land Wildlife Sanctuary,” he said.
Ek Sovanna, PLCN head of coordinating committee in Kratie province, said wildlife is an integral part of natural resources and a significant contribution to society and the economy.
“Forest is like a warehouse storing all types of the country’s goods that require protection from all relevant parties,” he said.
Kheng Kho, PLCN representative in Stung Treng province, said: “If all of us are afraid of the threats from forestry criminals and let them continue, it means we all support forestry crimes.”
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post that there are currently 1,221 environmental rangers nationwide, barely enough to patrol the country’s forest that spans some 7.1 million hectares.
Pheaktra said active participation from NGOs such as PLCN is vital to forest protection and preservation for the next generation of Cambodians.
“To avoid incidents when patrolling, we encourage cooperation with rangers. We really need all the people, especially the PLCN activists, to help us combat forestry crime,” he said.