The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries extended licences for 22 sawmill firms in the first half of the year and granted permission to four new companies wanting to set up seven more.
The sawmills expansion indicates growth in the timber industry.
An official report said the ministry also issued licences for timber exports to eight companies during the same period, allowing them to sell 6,364 cubic metres of wood, 88 tonnes of resin, and 27 tonnes of acacia charcoal abroad.
A total of 36 licences to use chainsaws and trucks for logging were granted over the same period, as were 22 licences for logging.
Ouch Leng, environmental activist and president of the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force, said he doubted the government’s commitment to protecting the environment, since new sawmill and logging licences were still being granted.
“The government says it protects the forests on paper, but in reality some governmental officials facilitate and systematically collude with prominent logging tycoons, so that the illegal logging and timber business carries on,” he said.
“Their mouths say they are protecting natural forests, but their hands sign it away to private companies.”
He added that the armed forces were allowed to run an illegal timber trade with impunity along the borders and no one dared to crack down on them, while governmental officials turned a blind eye.
According to the ministry’s annual report, national forest cover has declined from 73.04 percent to 49.48 percent in recent years.
This figure is expected to fall further as forest crimes including illegal logging and land grabbing persist.
Agriculture Ministry spokesman Lor Reaksmey declined to comment on the issue yesterday, while the spokesman for the Forestry Administration, Keo O’malis, could not be reached.
In February, Environment Minister Say Samal said the government had finished an initial crackdown to suppress forestry crime and was moving on to a second phase.
“The second round will feature more action against traders who stay near timber depots and buy illegal timber,” he said.