Hun Sen Tells Military Police to Fight Loggers With Rockets

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday rebuked those who accuse his gov­ernment of devastating the country’s rapidly falling forests and said he had personally authorized na­tional military police to shoot il­legal loggers—not only with bullets but with rockets as well.

Satellite data analyzed by the Uni­versity of Maryland shows that Cam­bodia has one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation since the turn of the century, and a fast­er acceleration of forest loss over the same period than any other country.

Prime Minister Hun Sen arrives at a ceremony to inaugurate the new headquarters of the Ministry of Environment in Phnom Penh yesterday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Prime Minister Hun Sen arrives at a ceremony to inaugurate the new headquarters of the Ministry of Environment in Phnom Penh yesterday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

But at the inauguration of the En­vironment Ministry’s new Phnom Penh headquarters on Thursday, the prime minister said he was personally hurt by those who blamed the deforestation on his government and insisted that the destruction was not nearly as severe as critics claim.

“I suffer too much when they shout about the matter of deforestation,” Mr. Hun Sen told the au­dience. “If we do not chop down the small plants, how can rub­ber trees be planted? But when we chop, that’s when they attack us.”

In mid-January, the prime minister announced the creation of a new task force—headed by Na­tional Military Police Commander Sao Sokha—to go after illicit timber stocks across the eastern prov­inces, where illegal logging is rampant. The task force has inspected stockpiles at dozens of sites and re­cently began sending cases to court.

On Thursday, Mr. Hun Sen said he had given General Sokha specific—and potentially deadly—instructions for getting the job done.

“I gave two helicopters, [but] Sao Sokha has apparently not fired even a single rocket,” he said. “I have authorized the firing of rockets without mercy if they resist.”

Mr. Hun Sen went on to say that it ought to be easy to stamp out illegal logging since the contraband in question was hard to hide.

“With drug smuggling, it’s hard for me to crack down,” he said. “But the logs are so big and transported with trucks, so where are the eyes of the military soldiers, po­lice, military police, Forestry Ad­ministration and Ministry of En­vironment? Or are you just the same [as the loggers]?”

Soldiers and military police are of­ten caught smuggling valuable tim­ber across the country, and NGOs that have investigated the trade say responsibility extends to the top levels of government. Giv­en the state’s involvement, those NGOs are skeptical that the new task force will be any more effective in curbing illegal logging than past efforts, which they say have achieved little to nothing.

Mr. Hun Sen’s own cabinet has ar­ranged a special deal with timber magnate Try Pheap—whom rights groups have accused of laundering more illegally logged wood than any­one in the country—allowing him to buy up all illicit timber seized by the state. The deal contravenes the Forestry Law, which re­quires all seized timber to be sold off at public auctions.

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