Police Admit Logging Failure

May Titthara / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Some of the NADC’s confiscated timber. Supplied

The National Committee for Forest Crime Prevention has admitted that despite claims from a variety of high-level government officials that deforestation and illegal logging had been stopped entirely, the illegal timber trade was still ravaging the country’s forests.
In June, Environment Minister Say Samal claimed the “mass logging which we have seen has completely ended,” due to the work of the National Anti-Deforestation Committee (NADC), which was tasked with investigating and shutting down timber warehouses in the country’s northern provinces.
But in a meeting on Tuesday at the Gendarmerie headquarters, Sao Sokha, commander in chief of the military police and head of the NADC, said police still faced “challenges” with illegal logging because timber companies were using smaller methods, such as trucks, two-wheel tractors and motorbikes to transport wood.
He claimed it was “dangerous” for police to try and stop these vehicles because they drove fast.
“Despite efforts to prevent and crack down [on illegal logging] by forces, some news is still reporting that illegal logging and illegal timber smuggling was still happening,” he said.
He said the wood confiscated during the NADC raids was being held by the gendarmerie. They are still searching for illegal logging merchants and hoped to improve education and cooperation with local residents so they understood the laws of the forest, he said.
“I asked local forces to strengthen logging and wood smuggling prevention and to continue existing mechanisms and measures to prevent and suppress forest crimes, especially along the border in the northeast provinces,” he said.
Ouch Leng, president of the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force and a deforestation monitor, said the NADC failed because the commission only confiscated wood from companies with economic land concessions.
They never made any effort to stop companies who were logging wood in Cambodia and selling it abroad, he said.
“They just created a commission to collect trees for bidding, and to allow wood companies to continue selling it abroad,” he said. “If the commission is willing to prevent forest crimes for real, they know how. Wood shouldn’t be easy to transport out of the country because it’s not like drugs. You can see it with your eyes.”
The NADC was harshly criticized by a variety of civil society organizations and news outlets, who said their raids often amounted to publicity stunts and had little effect on the illegal timber trade. Since its formation and closure, multiple news outlets have reported not only a continuation of illegal logging, but an increase, with logging companies allegedly becoming even more brazen in their tactics.
Police have been pictured repeatedly taking bribes at border checkpoints, even after the NADC claimed to have finished its work, and in June, police officials in Kampot province asked local residents for help in catching and stopping timber trucks openly transporting wood to Vietnam on a daily basis.
Last month, multiple residents of Srae village in Preah Vihear province told Khmer Times that logging firm 95 Company had de facto control over their village and monitored who came in and out of the area. Government officials were not only seen working with the company, but were serving as guards in certain areas and turning a blind eye to open-faced illegal logging.  
In January 2016, Prime Minister Hun Sen created the NADC to address claims of widespread, open-faced deforestation in the country’s northern provinces. The NADC made a point of publicizing each of its raids, highlighting the vast stores of timber it was confiscating from illegal lumber yards.
But critics became wary of the group’s efforts after some timber warehouses mysteriously caught fire during raids. In multiple instances, all of the wood at specific lumber yards was burned, despite it being a rarity before any of the NADC raids.  
According to a 2015-2016 annual review by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, forest cover fell to only 49.5 percent of the country, down from 73 percent more than a decade earlier. The report said the percentage will continue to fall unless illegal logging, forest burning and land grabs are stopped immediately.
In a 2015 report from international non-profit Forest Trends, it said deforestation in Cambodia was continuing because private companies have open access to land concessions, which they often clear of trees before doing anything. This was also occurring in so-called protected forest areas as well, they said.

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