Protected Forests Are Still Being Plundered, Activists Claim

Nearly a year after a special task force was created to root out illegal logging in Cambodia’s forests, a conservation group said on Thursday that the country’s largest protected area was still being plundered, and claimed to have recorded clear collusion between loggers and authorities.

Speaking in Phnom Penh at the release of the latest monitoring report by the Prey Lang Community Network, Hoeun Sopheap, a member of the conservation group from Kompong Thom province, said recent patrols found official complicity in illegal logging in the Prey Lang Forest.

“We saw some police officers from Sandan district, commune chiefs and village chiefs participating in cutting trees,” he said.

“We’ve seen timber traders who were police officers, and they used guns to provide protection to the loggers,” he added.

According to the report, which was compiled by the group during patrols from February last year to July this year, 1,519 cases of illegal activity were recorded in the largest lowland evergreen forest remaining in Southeast Asia.

The group came across 157 tree stumps, 68 areas of cleared forest and 39 planks left on site. The number of cleared areas increased by 14 percent, the report says.

At the report’s launch, Mr. Sopheap said a patrol just this month saw two men dressed in police uniforms transporting wood through Prey Lang.

“We stopped the two police officers and confiscated one chainsaw while they were driving a motorbike in an attempt to escape,” he said.

Despite the launch of a new government task force in January to tackle illegal logging across the country, Ek Sovanna, a Prey Lang Community Network member in Kratie province, said he believed illegal logging was, in fact, increasing in his area and that loggers always knew in advance when military police officers were going to patrol.

“The national illegal logging task force is not effective,” he said. “We’ve never seen the military police stopping any trucks or arresting any loggers in Prey Lang.”

In September, National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy claimed that not a single tree had been illegally cut down since the anti-logging task force began its work.

Noun Kimnit, Sandan district police chief, said he had no idea whether his officials were colluding with illegal loggers.

“They’ve never told me about any cases,” he said, adding that he had informed them to “stay away” from such activities.

Mr. Kimnit said he was not responsible for anyone beneath him engaging in illegal activities.

“These are individuals’ cases,” he said. “I should let the courts handle the cases.”

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