Referencing a growing spate of death due to illegal logging, Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday called on authorities to help stop the trade by reporting cases involving high-ranking officials to the Anti-Corruption Unit or directly to his office.
Speaking at an inauguration ceremony of two roads in Preah Vihear province, the prime minister referred to similar messages he had given in the past and urged adherence.
“I have made this message before, during the inauguration of Regiment 3 in 2009. Please listen to my speech again and don’t forget it,” he said. “Now, they are not only deforesting Cambodia, but going to log in Thailand until they are shot to death.”
“When they get inside [Thailand], they are shot and put in jail. But how can we blame [Thailand] when we are the ones causing the problem?” he added.
Human rights groups and border authorities have noted a significant increase in the number of Cambodians shot while logging along the Thai-Cambodian border. Already, 15 people have been killed this year compared with nine in 2010.
Mr. Hun Sen repeatedly highlighted the role that officials and military officers often play in illegal logging operations.
“[Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries] Chan Sarun, please pay more attention to Mondolkiri province. If it involves the provincial official, let’s send the documents to Phnom Penh,” he said.
But Mr. Hun Sen also admitted that stopping illegal logging may prove difficult given the advanced tactics of smugglers.
“No matter who they are, competent forestry officials, even me, I expect that a truck that is holding gasoline is holding gasoline. How can it be used to smuggle wood?” he said, noting that even Red Cross trucks and military vehicles had been known to transport luxury timber.
“I’d like to leave a message: If 20 soldiers were smuggling, around 20 thousand military officials get a bad reputation,” he said. “So please, all soldiers, send reports to me directly, whatever or whomever it involves, and we will keep them confidential.”
“If not, it will destroy our reputation,” he continued.
Major General Srey Dek, commander of RCAF’s Division 3 in Preah Vihear, declined to address the comments in Mr. Hun Sen’s speech, saying only that there was “no more logging nowadays in Thailand.”
Calling it a sensitive issue, human rights workers said implementation of the prime minister’s request might prove difficult.
“Prevention is still limited,” said Srey Naren, Oddar Meanchey provincial coordinator at local rights group Adhoc. “If there were no buyers for the wood, there would be no loggers, and most of the buyers have government officials standing behind them.”
But even if they have the political will, it is not altogether apparent that local officials will be able to make a dent in what appears to have become a highly systematized and entrenched illegal logging industry.
Mr. Hun Sen also used his speech to briefly make reference to the brutal assault last week on Mondolkiri Provincial Court Judge Meng Tony, which human rights groups believe was linked to his attempts to fight the illegal luxury wood trade in that province.
“The judge from Mondolkiri called me today…. I will have [the court] send me a report…. I heard it’s linked to some of the children of provincial officials,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
Mondolkiri Provincial Court director Ya Narin said he supported the prime minister’s speech but it was too early in the investigation to say whether the attack on Judge Tony was indeed linked to illegal logging.
(Additional reporting by Khy Sovuthy)