Forestry officials and wildlife activists in Preah Vihear province said Thursday they were concerned about an increase in illegal logging operations within protected forests in Choam Ksan district in the name of providing wood to build houses for military families.
Tan Setha, project manager for the 19,000-hectare Preah Vihear Protected Forest, said that some businessmen who have obtained government permission to supply timber for military houses are cutting trees from prohibited areas.
“We have stopped and confiscated their logging trucks, but the military came and asked them back,” Mr Setha said. “We are trying to stop them from invading the core area.”
The government established Preah Vihear Protected Forest by royal decree in July 2002, Mr Setha said. But part of the area has been cut out to build the villages for military officials but it was seriously affected such as from the logging activity.
“The sanctuary is being threatened by logging and wildlife poaching,” he added.
Brigadier General Kul Vay, commander of RCAF 9th Intervention Brigade, said Friday that he knew that the protected area had been violated in an attempt to obtain high-quality wood to build 626 houses for his soldiers. There is not enough suitable timber available elsewhere, he claimed.
“In principle, timber is not allowed to be taken from the protected area,” Mr Vay said. “There are some exceptions to that because we really need trees that are old enough to build lasting houses.”
The government plans to build 1,900 wooden homes for RCAF soldiers and their families who are currently living in a military camp after being deployed to Preah Vihear province since last year’s gun battles on the Cambodian-Thai border.
Sar Thavy, deputy governor of Preah Vihear province, and Ros Heng, governor of Choam Ksan district, said Thursday that they were unaware of the logging for military housing, although they did know that there was a general problem with illegal logging.
“It is happening everywhere,” Mr Heng said. “The opportunists use the name of the military to run their logging business.”
Pol Khamnare, chief of the Preah Vihear Forestry Administration cantonment, said he was aware of the issue and plans to discuss it with military officers.