Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday said a growing population has contributed to the loss of forest cover because people clear land to make farms.
The premier raised the issue on Saturday while speaking to thousands of garment workers at a Special Economic Zone in Preah Sihanouk province.
“Who has been cutting the forests?” he asked. “When the population increases, who is cutting the forest for their farmland? Some people cut the forest to make farms because they need the land as the population grows.”
Preah Sihanouk province was once covered in forests, but it needed to develop, added Mr Hun Sen.
“Also in Europe, the French cut all the forests and became rich,” he said.
Mr Hun Sen also accused the dissolved CNRP opposition party of inciting villagers to grab state land, citing damaged forests in the Kbal Chhay area in Preah Sihanouk province
“Who is going to cut it? Sometimes the opposition urged people to cut it,” he said.
However, Pen Bonnar, a senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, alleged that forest crimes were still happening because of the inability to punish offenders.
“If the government took legal measures to punish offenders, forest crimes would decline. The government also needs to provide social land concessions to people who are really poor,” he said.
He added everyone was involved with forestry crimes, including the opposition, the ruling CPP, some NGOs and citizens.
The value of logs and sawn wood exported from Cambodia to Vietnam last year increased by about $31.5 million compared to 2016, customs data has shown.
The Vietnamese data said about 163,071 cubic metres of Cambodian logs were imported to the country in 2017, worth about $39.5 million.
In 2016, this figure stood at 138,926 cubic metres, worth about $32.8 million.
Data released by US-based NGO Forest Trends in August said 313,000 cubic metres of Cambodian timber valued at $142 million was registered by Vietnamese customs between January and June last year, including both logs and sawn wood.
However, the Environment Ministry issued a statement denying loss of forest cover in Cambodia, saying the Forest Trends report was misleading the public about the state of natural resources in Cambodia.