In recent months Prime Minister Hun Sen has made an effort to show that the government has a handle on the voracious deforestation that has ravaged the country’s forests over the years.
Yet his speeches and decrees have done little to slow down, much less stop, illegal logging and timber smuggling across the country.
His past failures have not stopped him from using the same methods again though. On Tuesday, he ordered Tbong Khmum provincial governor Prach Chan to “totally eliminate” illegal timber smuggling and illegal logging in his province.
He specifically told the governor to stop going after small-time dealers and aim for the true ringleaders within the logging industry, something many local environmentalists have criticized the government for in the past.
He made the declaration in a statement on his Facebook page after meeting with government officials and army generals in the province on Tuesday.
“In the meeting today, Samdech Techo [Mr. Hun Sen] stressed about stopping deforestation and illegal logging in Tbong Khmum province,” the statement read.
The statement added that the prime minister ordered Mr. Chan to respond to it immediately and lead the police as well as army officials in this operation to “enforce the order.”
“He especially must take legal action against big ringleaders. Do not only arrest average citizens,” he said.
According to the statement, Mr. Hun Sen told the governor that provincial officials must work with Vietnamese authorities to stop a variety of cross-border crimes, including drug trafficking and illegal timber smuggling.
A day before his visit to Tbong Khmum, the premier said he would work with activists and civil society organizations to protect forests and prevent the loss of more natural resources.
He demanded provincial governors meet with civil society stakeholders to discuss environmental issues every three months and once a year with the prime minister himself.
Mr. Chan could not be reached for comment, but provincial police commissioner Brigadier General Mao Pov said: “We already received the order, and we will enforce it.”
He claimed there was “no more timber for logging left” in the province and said he had only seen people transporting illegally logged wood either to the province or through it.
Eng Hy, a spokesman for the National Anti-Deforestation Committee (NADC), said during their wide-ranging investigations and raids earlier this year that they found a number of timber warehouses in Tbong Khmum.
“Timber was transported from other provinces and stocked in this province,” he said.
According to an NADC report, only 71,000 cubic meters of luxury timber was confiscated during their campaign, which started in January.
Only yesterday, Khmer Times published an in-depth report on the continued logging of Prey Lang forest, which was designated a protected conservation area in May by the prime minister himself.
Logging companies not only control who enters and exits the towns near their illegal logging sites, but according to local residents, were using the army as guards for their operations. Government officials dismissed the reported sightings, despite multiple eyewitnesses repeatedly telling the government what was happening in their own community.
“This proves that the Prey Lang conservation area is on paper only. According to our observation, 95 Company is very powerful and has run the wood business since the ’90s without any suppression from the government,” said Ouch Leng, president of the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force.
Prey Lang is only one example of what many have said is an increase in illegal logging throughout the country. Police in multiple provinces, including Kampot and Kratie, have even turned to local residents for help in stopping illegal loggers who were openly transporting wood across the border to Vietnam.
Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the provincial governor of Tbong Khmum to stop all forms of logging and timber trading. KT/ Ven Rathavon