Minister of Interior Sar Kheng on Saturday acknowledged that there had been illegal logging in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary in Pursat province. Civil society groups lauded the acknowledgement and urged the authorities to immediately combat the crimes.
Addressing officials during a ground-breaking ceremony at a pagoda in Prey Veng province, Sar Keng said Pursat provincial governor, Minister of Environment Say Sam Al and officials from the Ministry of Interior had used a helicopter to scout the area and found logging in the protected wildlife sanctuary, though he said it was not on a large scale.
“We had received a tip-off about logging in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary on the Cardamon mountain range south of Pursat province. Part of the forest was secretly cleared though it was not on a big scale."
“Photos taken from above, through satellite, showed the logging clearly. So [local authorities] cannot hide the truth. You cannot see the logging by car. Satellite photos showed clearly which part of the forest is clear, which part remains intact,” he said.
Chea Hean, the director of the Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organisation, told The Post on Sunday that two months ago he filed a report seeking Sar Kheng’s intervention and clampdown on illegal logging at conservation areas in Koh Kong, Kampong Speu and Pursat provinces, especially the Cardamon mountain in Pursat where logging was reportedly rampant.
Hean said villagers living in the Phnom Samkos and Cardamon mountain range had been hired to illegally log and transport timber to a company owned by a prominent tycoon. Hean said the clearing of state land in the area had persisted for around five years with no effective crackdown by authorities.
“[The authorities] have taken no measures under the pretext that the land belongs to the company of Oknha Try Pheap, but the company is no longer in operation and there is no timber to log there. Timber is actually imported from outside into the compound of the now-defunct company,” he said.
Hean continued that during the rainy season, timber in the conservation area is felled and stored on the compound before being transported to Vietnam for sale in the dry season.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra declined to comment on Sar Kheng’s remarks, saying only that the ministry had located some offenders who continued to commit forestry crime in the protected Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary.
He said the ministry would reinforce protection measures including increased patrols, tougher actions against offenders and more strategies for forest protection.
“We acknowledge that forestry crime including logging and state forest clearing for private ownership has continued to occur, but the crime has generally decreased with a great number of offences combated. Some offenders were arrested and their cases sent to court,” he said.
Pheaktra said effective natural resource protection requires concerted efforts and collaboration with civil society organisations and villagers on the ground.
Pen Bunna, senior land and natural resource investigator for rights group Adhoc, lauded Sar Kheng’s acknowledgement of illegal logging in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary and said his remarks suggested provincial officials may have been involved in forestry crime in the protected area.
Bunna called on the provincial court to launch an investigation into those involved in the forestry crime and bring them to justice.
“In light of [Sar Kheng’s] remarks, the provincial prosecutor should conduct a probe and bring all provincial officials or judicial police for questioning because it is impossible for the offence to persist for so many years without any crackdown, to such an extent that Samdech [Sar Kheng] ordered an aerial inspection of the area,” he said.
Pursat provincial court spokesman Heng Donin on Sunday declined to comment on the matter, referring questions to Chhay Hang, the prosecution’s spokesman who could not be reached for comment.
The Kingdom’s protected national parks currently cover 7,500,000ha or 41 per cent of Cambodia’s total land. The Ministry of Environment employs 1,220 rangers to carry out patrols and crackdowns on forestry crime including illegal logging and poaching, according to the Ministry of Environment.