Forestry officials confiscated 6.8 million cubic meters of logs and destroyed 92 sawmills in the first half of this year, according to a report by the Council of Ministers.
The report, released last week, claims the “state of anarchy in the forests has significantly declined day by day.” Large-scale illegal operations have been replaced by small-scale cutting undertaken late at night in remote areas and supported by gunmen, the report states.
“We have succeeded in stamping out illegal logging,” Ty Sokhun, directory of the forestry department at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said Sunday.
But a representative from the country’s top forest-crime watchdog sounded a more cautionary note.
“Enforcement has been stepped up in the sense that reported cases are somehow followed up. But it is more in a sense of hit-and-run….What we still see missing is thorough investigation, and we see very few court cases or convictions of people. They don’t touch the system,” Global Witness official Marcus Hardtke said.
The report details a variety of criminal logging in all 24 provinces.
Fines totaling almost $27,500 were levied. Fifty-nine people were arrested in two cases stemming from illegal logging in Mondolkiri and Koh Kong.
The report discloses several cases of collaboration involving local authorities or military personnel.
“High-ranking army officials” are cited as being involved in logging in Oddar Meanchey, and a Division 5 regiment was accused of logging in Koh Kong. A soldier in Mondolkiri province sold impounded logs in Vietnam for 5 million Vietnamese dong (about $333), the report stated.
The report does not state whether or not the cases led to arrests.
The report also takes special aim at Global Witness, which the Council of Ministers has declared to be the government’s official independent monitor.
“Global Witness has not cooperated with our officials. In fact, they try to find the mistakes of our officials,” the report said.
The claims of noncooperation may refer to a dispute early this year over the timing of a Global Witness report criticizing the government, Hardtke said. Cooperation has improved, but the NGO is still being denied access to cases and information on regulations, he added.
Forestry officials are generally willing to take action against small operations involving local businessmen or other small-time players, Hardtke said.
But when cases involve “higher interests—for example, concessionaires,” their response is less impressive, Hardtke said.
“They find nothing [wrong] on a regular basis, and make unconvincing findings,” he said. “It can be as simple as, do you see this photo, see this stockpile of logs? They can’t find it, even though our own guys can find it even two, three weeks later.”