Local and national government officials are complicit in the widespread illegal logging that continues to devastate the sprawling Prey Long forest in the country’s north, according to a report released Monday by the Prey Long Community Network.
The 650,000-hectare forest straddles Preah Vihear, Kompong Thom, Kratie and Stung Treng provinces. Despite a draft sub-decree, which if adopted would officially give the forest protected status, it remains largely defenseless against loggers.
Between April 2013 and January 2014, the network—an association of communities in four provinces—conducted interviews with local officials, residents and community leaders in 33 communes in the Prey Long area.
The resulting report, which notes that most of the conclusions presented were reached through interviews and not evidence-based research, says that illegal logging remains the greatest threat to the forest.
“The second common theme to come from conversations in these communes was of local and national government officials, business people and other ‘powerful people’ abusing their authority to take advantage of Prey Lang resources,” it adds.
According to the findings of the report, there are 53 companies operating on land concessions within the forest and these were responsible for extensive deforestation.
At the launch of the report in Phnom Penh on Monday, Sar Mory, vice president of the Cambodian Youth Network, which helped produce the report, said researchers also found that local government officials were working with timber dealers to log within the forest.
“We found that more than 40 sawmills are processing luxury woods to make furniture in Prey Long and most of the sawmills are involved with officials in communes and districts of each of the four provinces,” he said.
In addition to illegal logging, Mr. Mory said large swaths of land had been cleared for social land concessions intended for impoverished families.
“But the government has not yet distributed the land to the villagers,” he said.