Despite the ongoing moratorium on logging, large swathes of forest are being clear-cut in Preah Vihear and Kompong Thom provinces for businessmen, government officials and the military, officials said.
Chea Rith, a forestry official in Preah Vihear, said Sunday that police and soldiers are trying to take forested land for themselves in Choam Khsan district as they’ve heard a border crossing with Thailand is planned there.
“Police and soldiers are in a bitter argument and they are going to fight each other with axes and knives,” he said. “We sent our people to investigate this land grab.”
Thousands of hectares of forest has already been cleared, he said, adding: “We are worried thousands more will face destruction.”
Chea Rith said he has sent forestry officials to investigate but he didn’t know what they could do without support from the government and police officials.
Pol Kham Nare, deputy chief of the forestry administration’s northern Tonle Sap inspectorate, said Monday that an estimated 10,000 hectares of forested land has been cleared in the province in recent years.
He said the land is being bought by businessmen and government officials from Phnom Penh and that he is pushing the provincial court to move forward on about 10 related cases that are stuck in court.
Hy Dy Moly, a forestry official in Kompong Thom province, said thousands of hectares of forest are also being cut and destroyed in Sandan and Santuk districts.
“They are now cutting trees every day,” he said Sunday, adding that commune officials give loggers unofficial land titles. “It is difficult to crack down on them. We need commune officials and other relevant officials to cooperate to combat it.”
Another forestry official, who asked not to be named, said trucks transport luxury wood from Sandan district to Phnom Penh along National Road 6 every day but they can’t be touched because they belong to powerful officials.
Som Sophat, Kompong Thom deputy provincial governor, confirmed Sunday that forest was being cleared, adding that he has asked the courts to take the necessary steps.