High-ranking officials are orchestrating illegal logging of lucrative black wood species in Bokor National Park, park Director Chey Yuthearith said Monday.
Chey Yuthearith said more than 100 cubic meters of the wood had been cut in the park in the past several months due to increasing demand. Officials hire poor locals to log black wood, he said, which they carry out on bicycles.
“Powerful people in the armed forces, Forestry Administration and the Ministry of Environment are involved in the illegal trade,” he said, saying he had hard evidence against a powerful Kampot provincial environmental official.
Tim Redford, director the NGO WildAid’s management program in Bokor National Park, also said the trade is becoming a major problem.
One cubic meter, or several trees worth, of the luxury wood can fetch several hundred dollars if bought in the forest and as much as $6,000 in Vietnam, he said.
“This is making locals switch from traditional occupations such as fishing and bamboo collecting into this illegal but lucrative trade in black wood,” he said.
Kampot provincial authorities are investigating the suspected involvement of several officials in illegal logging, provincial Governor Puth Chandarith said Tuesday. He also demanded an investigation at a meeting of provincial authorities Monday.
Officials in the Ministry of Environment and Forestry Administration denied knowledge of the allegations this week.
Chey Yuthearith and Tim Redford said that a crackdown is essential to protect the park.
They lamented the release by Kampot Provincial Court last week of four villagers arrested in June for logging in Bokor park.
Court and provincial officials said they were freed because they are poor workers, not the ones organizing the logging.
But Chey Yuthearith and Redford said all loggers must be punished.
“I feel only strong action by the park and court will protect Bokor and deter more local people from switching from an honest living to an illegal one,” Redford said.