The government has established a new taskforce to crack down on natural resource crimes, according to a letter it sent to the Ministry of Environment on Friday, which stipulates the unit will be afforded the use of “all kinds of armed forces”.
The taskforce will be headed up by military police General Sao Sokha, who also chairs the anti-logging taskforce, a body that has seen mixed – if widely touted – results since its establishment in January.
Military police spokesman Eng Hy said he was aware of the new taskforce, but declined to comment until he had seen the letter to the Environment Ministry, which also says the taskforce would have access to the Air Force’s military helicopters in carrying out its duties, as well as the right to apply for special funding packages.
“The committee has to investigate and search for criminals and those involved in [natural resource] crime and evidence to forward to the courts . . . it has to cooperate with neighbouring countries, including Vietnam, Laos and Thailand,” the letter reads, going on to list logging, timber transportation, hunting and wild animal trafficking, state land clearing and illegal mining.
Environment Ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap said yesterday that his ministry is represented on the taskforce’s committee by secretary of state Phay Bunchhoeun, while the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is represented by Secretary of State Has Sareth, and the National Police by deputy commissioner-general Hou Sak Un. They will be joined by the governors of each of Cambodia’s 25 provinces.
Front-line environmental activists gave the new taskforce a cautious welcome yesterday. Chheuy Udom Raksmey, son of slain forest activist Chut Wutty and director of NGO the Natural Resources Protection Organisation, said the taskforce was a good thing in principle, but that he doubted it would see real results, due to what he perceived as corruption and nepotism within its de facto predecessor, the anti-logging taskforce.
“Some [tycoons] have not been jailed, they are still at large; this is [because of] nepotism and corruption in the committee,” Raksmey said. “I think [the new committee] is useless . . . it is a waste of the national budget . . . They do not work honestly. It looks determined, but it is ineffective.”
Prey Lang forest activist Hoeun Sopheap, meanwhile, was similarly dismissive, echoing Raksmey’s concerns about the work done by the anti-logging taskforce. “In the taskforce, some people are involved in crime,” Sopheap alleged. “So before [the taskforce] launches an action, [the criminals] know in advance and so bring their trucks and hide the timber. The taskforce needs to be cleared first in order to make it effective.”
Meanwhile, Environment Minister Say Sam Al issued a letter to the governors of 20 provinces rich in natural resources, instructing them to order local law enforcement to crack down on resource crimes, noting that such crimes tend to flourish in the dry season.
Last Thursday, the Forestry Administration (FA), local police and military police seized 16 cubic metres of first-grade timber in Sesan commune in Ratanakkiri’s O’Yadav district, according to Leng Yuk, an FA official based in Bakeo district, who added that no arrests were made.
“The timber was found near the border, so the destination was Vietnam,” Yuk said.Vietnamese customs data shared with the Post by NGO Forest Trends showed at least $121 million worth of timber leaving Cambodia in the first nine months of this year alone.