Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday railed against the illegal clearing of forest land, saying such work was organized by high-ranking officials, and urged authorities to bring culprits before the courts.
Hun Sen said government authorities, including RCAF forces, should cooperate in a joint campaign to stamp out the illegal “burning, clearing, bulldozing and cutting of forested lands.”
“The government has enough power to do everything, including cracking down on big officials who have power and use their power to claim land for themselves,” Hun Sen said at the inauguration of the new Forestry Administration building in Phnom Penh.
Hun Sen also said that logging in forest concession areas will not restart until logging companies have sustainable management plans in place. There should be no “tree cutting or transportation,” the prime minister said.
“[We] cannot let forest companies continue cutting trees if there are no inventories and sustainable plans for reforesting,” Hun Sen said at Monday’s ceremony.
Vowing to resign if he was not successful in ending illegal logging in Cambodia, Hun Sen banned the cutting and transportation of timber at the end of 2001.
Hun Sen’s call for a new crackdown follows reports by forestry watchdog Global Witness last month, alleging that a major logging operation was under way in the northeastern provinces of Kratie and Mondolkiri, with the likely knowledge of provincial officials.
Global Witness have also uncovered several permits in recent months that, it alleged, had authorized the transportation of possibly illegally cut timber.
The permits were signed by Forestry Administration Deputy Director Chea Sam Ang and Chheng Kim Sun, director of the forest management office, Global Witness said.
Chea Sam Ang last week defended his issuance of one permit that allowed the transportation of logs and denied the document had been misused for illegal purposes.
Mike Davis of Global Witness praised Hun Sen Monday for emphasizing that illegal activities commissioned by the rich and powerful are a threat to the nation’s forests.
He agreed with Hun Sen’s statement that most logging is occurring on a small-scale, though he said “small-scale methods are being used for large-scale means.”
Innumerable small loggers are being organized by powerful people to cut trees that are then collected and transported en masse, Davis said.
Logging companies’ 25-year management plans are under review, as part of a World Bank-funded program to better manage forest concessions.
That World Bank-funded project is proceeding despite an April donor-funded review of forestry that recommended that the concession system be scrapped because it was no longer viable.