Attendees at a forum on the protection of natural resources yesterday largely described a drop in the scale of illegal logging, echoing government claims of success in a crackdown launched last year, though other conservation activists not in attendance said that painted a false picture.
The Ministry of Environment-organised event was designed as a way to collect input for a forum to be presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen next month.
Hoeun Sopheap, an activist operating in the the Prey Lang forest, which spans five provinces, was one of many to say they had noticed a slowdown in illegal logging. Even so, he said, all the small-scale logging added together represented “a lot”.
Another activist working in Prey Lang, Chea Sokhoeun, requested a ban on the import of chainsaws, saying they were easy to hide and use. According to his community survey, there are at least 900 chainsaws in three communes in Stung Treng’s Thala Barivat district.
Environment Minister Say Samal told attendees that the ministry was trying to provide alternative jobs to people who mostly depended on forest products, adding that he would also move to ban the import of chainsaws.
But independent analyst Marcus Hardtke yesterday argued there was little reason for the positive sentiment on display. “[Illegal loggers are] moving away from big trucks … to small trucks, [but] … it’s still organised crime,” he said.
Hardtke said people were cautious of “speaking the truth” in these formal meetings and called for a more continuous dialogue between civil society organisations and the government.
Seng Sokheng of the Prey Lang Community Network sounded a similar note, saying that only small-scale loggers were busted, while bigger tycoons and government officials could continue unharmed.
“If they catch the [bigger loggers], they will release them after one or two nights,” he said.