General Sao Sokha, the deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and commander of the National Military Police, on Monday, ordered relevant authorities to put more effort into combating natural resource-related crimes.
According to Fresh News, Sokha, who also chairs the National Committee for Forest Crime Prevention, told the committee during a meeting in Phnom Penh to remain vigilant about forest crimes and take more action to bring perpetrators to justice.
National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy said after the meeting that most forestry crimes. take place in Pursat, Kampong Speu, Koh Kong, Mondulkiri, Ratanakkiri, Kratie and other northern provinces.
“We must strengthen our forces in all cities and provinces, and investigate and prevent natural resource crimes more effectively. The forces must maintain good cooperation and be vigilant in their designated regions,” he said.
The committee said natural resource crimes include deforestation, wildlife poaching and smuggling, state land-grabbing and illegal mining.
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Hy said that last year, the authorities busted 338 cases of forestry crimes, 72 cases of state land clearance, 35 cases of wildlife crimes and 31 cases of illegal mining. He said an unspecified number of perpetrators were either arrested and sent to court or fined.
To combat and prevent the crimes more effectively, Hy said the committee will organise three meetings a year to review its achievement and take measures accordingly.
Kampong Speu provincial governor Vei Samnang told The Post on Monday that his province saw a huge decline in natural resource crimes last year as the public were more aware of them.
“In 2018, we saw a notable decrease in forestry crimes and wildlife smuggling. The crimes were down because our people understand the issue. They are now aware that such activities are illegal. Also, there are not many perpetrators anymore because they have other jobs,” he said.
Despite the decrease, he said more needs to be done to stop the crimes.
“Some people encroach on state land and build huts there. We stop such activities every day. Yesterday, our environment officers dismantled some construction in the forest."
“Our law enforcement officers are attentive but perpetrators still find a way to exploit the resources behind our back. We are not able to see everything so we just enter the forest looking out for illicit activities and combat them accordingly,” he said.
Asked whether there have been any crimes allegedly backed by high-ranking officials in his province, Samnang said: “I don’t know what senior positions the officials hold . . . I only know I’m obliged to implement the law. I don’t care who they are, if they do anything unlawful we’ll enforce the law.”
Samnang said he had so far seen only ordinary people committing the natural-resource crimes.
Deputy Ratanakkiri provincial governor Nhem Samoeun told The Post on Monday that natural resource crimes in his province had also decreased, especially along the Cambodian-Vietnamese border.
Mondulkiri provincial governor Svay Sam Eang could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Ouch Leng, a prominent environmental activist who received the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2016, welcomed General Sokha’s directive, saying only Sokha and Prime Minister Hun Sen can stop the crimes.
“It’s good that the military police and His Excellency Sao Sokha continue to crack down on these crimes. Besides him and the prime minister, no one dares to combat the crimes."
“We rely entirely on the two leaders to protect natural resources. The prime minister has even allowed General Sao Sokha to use rockets if needed [to combat the crimes], so only Sao Sokha can crack down on timbers traders. The future of our natural resources is completely dependent on the two and nobody else,” Leng said.
He said that some prominent tycoons are behind forest crimes, making it difficult for lower-level officials to combat.