PM Wants Military to ‘Open Eyes’ on Deforestation Crimes

May Titthara / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
General Sao Sokha, deputy chief of the Armed Forces, leads a delegation to inspect wood confiscated during a crackdown on illegal logging in Kratie province. Supplied

Prime Minister Hun Sen proposed an action-movie solution to the problem of mass deforestation – blowing up the perpetrators with rocket-propelled grenades.
 
“I gave two helicopters to General Sokha,” he said during a speech at the opening of the Ministry of Environment’s new building. “It seems like he hasn’t shot anything yet. I have ordered him to shoot without hesitation at whoever is insolent enough to commit such a crime.” 
 
The prime minister said illegal logging or land clearance must be punished swiftly, and blamed regulators for turning a blind eye to the crime. “Transporting timber requires a truck that is big enough to see with our naked eyes, so where have your eyes gone?” he demanded of the Ministry of Environment officials. “The military’s eyes, police’s eyes, gendarmerie’s eyes, forest inspector’s eyes and environmental official’s are all gone too…now, it’s time for you to act.”
 
He raised the example of Malaysia, where much of the forest has been replaced with coconut oil and rubber plantations, adding that many countries in Southeast Asia had lost their forests to rampant development. 
 
“I cannot tolerate deforestation,” he said. “We must talk about reform, but what is important is to do it, that’s all.” 
 
The Prime Minister took steps earlier this year to end deforestation, creating the National Anti-Deforestation Committee. The committee comprises 10 members – a president, deputy president and eight permanent members coming from Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Environment and from the local government of provinces along Cambodian-Vietnamese border.
 
This committee has already sent 26 complaints to the courts of different provinces, after a month-long crackdown that saw raids on multiple timber warehouses. In a February 22 report, the committee said that deforestation crimes are common in three provinces along the Cambodian-Vietnamese border – Mondulkiri, Kratie, and Tbong Khmum. 
 
But the head of the NADC said the raids caught only a small amount of illegal loggers, and the provincial courts have issued arrest warrants for none of the suspects yet.
 
Hoeun Sopheap, a representative for the Prey Lang Network in Kampong Thom province, said he and other members of the network support the Prime Minister’s strong stand against deforestation. 
 
He said that he had protested against the crime bosses responsible for deforestation, despite a lack of support from local government officials.
 
He said that much of the province’s illegal logging takes place in plain sight. “If those officials opened their eyes to what was going on,” he said, “the forest would not have been destroyed. It is exactly like Samdech [an honorary term for the Prime Minister] said: timber is transported in big trucks. It is not transported secretly; it is transported publicly.”
 
“But officials are paid off by crime bosses. They sit in their booths and pretend not to see the trucks.” 
 
Eng Hy, spokesman for the NADC, said the committee is equipped to deal with criminals with all necessary “means and force.” Helicopters are equipped with machine guns and rocket launchers, ready for operation whenever the provincial authorities want to use them. The committee also has command of 12 tanks and 21 other vehicles. 
 
“If any of our vehicles cannot reach a remote place, we will use helicopters to fly there,” he said. 
 
Some human rights organizations were skeptical about the Prime Minister’s hardline stance on deforestation. Ouch Leng, director of the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force, said that Hun Sen has spoken before about his plan to stop deforestation. Mr. Leng said that, to stop the crime, the Prime Minister should start by prosecuting politically influential people and tycoons. 
 
“Samdech knows that officials didn’t open their eyes to see the trucks transporting timber, and that officials concerned didn’t take any measure against that kind of crime,” he said. “So how could this newly created committee succeed?”

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