Tbong Khmum provincial deputy governor Cheng Bunnara has ordered district police officers to identify illegal wood processing facilities in their respective jurisdiction and instruct the owners to apply for a permit before resuming their business.

Bunnara said that in order to bring the activities of illegal timber processing facilities under control and crack down on the illegal timber trade in protected areas, the owners of all such facilities have to follow procedure and apply for permits to continue operating.

“We have to inspect those facilities, warehouses and handicraft workshops that are operating without permission. Some of them are secretly processing timber from protected areas in remote parts of the forest out of view of the authorities.

“Some of the handicraft and carpentry workshops are producing wooden doors, windows, tables, chairs and beds with timber they are buying from illegal logging outfits,” he said.

He added that he plans to lead a joint force to directly inspect any factories suspected of illegal activity and crackdown on natural resources and forest crimes in and near the protected areas of the province.

Bunnara said that to in order for their work to be effective it must involve the district police, forest rangers and department of environment and forestry administration officials who must all work together to find the sources of sawn wood and the places where the wood is being stored before it is exported and sold to factories.

Pen Bunna, a community empowerment officer for rights group Adhoc, said the police should focus on effective law enforcement and imposing real consequences on the perpetrators responsible in order to prevent deforestation in Cambodia, otherwise conducting all of this work to find these locations could go on for a dozen years without having any appreciable impact.

He noted that businesses buying or using timber from illegal logging or sawmills was already a misdemeanor criminal offence and yet all of these places are not new and have been operating this entire time so there must be some kind of corruption taking place that protects them.

“Such practices are ineffective when the ringleaders go unpunished and go on to repeat their crimes with impunity. It’s no big deal to the corrupt officials, traders and craftsmen to break the law when there are no lasting consequences. Raiding them and then fining them or letting them go with a warning just makes things quiet down for a little while and then they start again,” he said.