Despite last month’s establishment of a high-level government task force charged with rooting out illegal logging, the Prey Long Community Network said on Monday that a recent patrol carried out by more than 180 activists had yielded evidence of continued forest crimes—and collusion between loggers and local forestry officials.
In a report released on Monday, the network says its activists discovered 75 cubic meters of first- and second-grade timber, 159 felled trees and 283 hectares of cleared land over the course of a five-day patrol that began on February 1 in Prey Long, a 650,000-hectare forest straddling Kompong Thom, Preah Vihear, Stung Treng and Kratie provinces.
“The illegal logging and transporting of wood is still happening in the four provinces, even since the illegal logging task force was established almost a month ago,” the report says, referring to a committee established last month by Prime Minister Hun Sen, which has been conducting operations in the country’s eastern provinces with the goal of stamping out illicit logging and cross-border timber smuggling.
The reports says that the activists also handed over 19 confiscated chainsaws, two homemade guns and one crossbow to cantonment-level Forestry Administration officials.
Srey Thay, an activist who was part of a group of 44 people who entered the forest in Preah Vihear, said he believed the loggers they encountered were in league with those same officials.
“We now do not trust the Forestry Administration because we handed the confiscated chainsaws to them [after a previous patrol], but they returned them to the loggers,” he said.
“We met the loggers in the forest and they showed us the chainsaws. They told us that the chainsaws we confiscated from them are now back in their hands and that they received the chainsaws from the Forestry Administration.”
Noun Sokhom, deputy chief of the Forestry Administration’s Preah Vihear cantonment, denied this claim.
“Our officials never returned the chainsaws to the loggers as those people accused us, because we always report to the national Forestry Administration,” he said.
Eng Hy, spokesman for the new military police-led task force, dismissed the activists’ entire report.
“I wish to state that the information about illegal logging in Prey Long is not true because the provincial levels reported to us that the activity is quiet,” he said.