Logging Task Force to Widen Scope of Investigations

The government is expanding a special task force, set up at the beginning of the year to root out east Cambodia’s illegal logging trade, to go after all manner of crimes involving natural resources, according to a directive signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen last week.

The government set up the task force, under the command of National Military Police Commander Sao Sokha, in mid-January to crack down on illicit timber stocks across the eastern provinces.

The prime minister’s new directive, signed on Wednesday, effectively expands the task force’s scope to include, among other things, animal poaching and illegal mining.

The order does not explain why Cambodia needed a task force to deal with crimes its security agencies are already authorized to tackle. It also makes no specific mention of sand dredging, which has grabbed national headlines since massive irregularities in export figures to Singapore were revealed earlier this year.

General Sokha remains in charge of the task force, with deputy National Police chief Hou Sakun as his second-in-command. It also includes the governors of each province and a number of officials from various ministries.

General Sokha declined to comment on the changes. Military police spokesman Eng Hy confirmed the expansion of the task force but said he did not know why it was being done. He referred questions to a government spokesman, who could not be reached.

In its earlier form, the task force claimed to have seized about 70,000 cubic meters of unlicensed timber across east Cambodia and sent several related cases to court. However, no one has yet been charged, let alone convicted, in any of them.

Pen Bonnar, land rights and natural resources senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, said the government’s decision to beef up the task force was a positive step, but it would have to lead to prosecutions to mean anything.

“We will watch the committee, and if they don’t act responsibly we will file complaints with the court and accuse them of protecting the offenders,” he said.

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