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Fight forest crimes, PM urges

May Titthara / Khmer Times Share:
Officials check an area that had recently been logged. EIA

Prime Minister Hun Sen declared a passion for forest protection yesterday, urging officials to improve the efficiency of forest crime prevention.

He told a forum at the Peace Palace on protection and conservation of natural resources of his earlier call for a national movement to protect the environment and the country’s natural resources.

In 2015, the prime minister established a commission to prevent and suppress deforestation, illegal timber exports and other forest offences.

Yesterday, Mr Hun Sen said he hated people who cut down trees. And he said that at party meetings he reminded members not to pardon those who destroyed forests, no matter who or how high-ranking they were.

“I hate people who cut down trees because it is like cutting off my head,” he said, calling for a census of loggers so that they could be recognised more easily.

He ordered the naming of officials and tycoons who used good works to hide their forest crimes in some provinces.

He said cracking down on drugs can be difficult because the industry operates in secret, but forest crimes are often blatant, with truckloads of timber being transporting across the nation.

In 2015, the Global Witness group said tycoon Try Pheap and his network were cutting down what was left of Cambodian forests and encroaching on the land and lives of indigenous communities.

The group said the Try Pheap Group used its land concessions and licences to clear forests and acquire luxury timber that was shipped to Vietnam or China.

But in February, Mr Pheap told online government news site Fresh News that he had moved his business away from logging and into farming, agro-industrial initiatives, rubber plantations, fuel, hotels, air-conditioners and a new motorcycle factory that he opened this year in Kandal province’s Ang Snoul district.

“I have stopped doing timber business trading for a long time,” Mr Pheap said.

Environment Minister Say Samal said recently that large-scale logging had ended, though small-scale deforestation crimes continued.

Earlier this month, the Environment Ministry said preliminary results from a review last year showed that forests covered 45.26 per-
cent of the country’s area.

The rate of loss of forest cover had decreased between 2014 and 2016 to 0.82 percent a year from 2.7 percent annually between 2010 and 2014, the review said.

Anti-logging activist Marcus Hardtke said that for eight years, Cambodia had one the fastest deforestation rates in the world, but recently the numbers were slightly down.

The main reason for this was that economic land concessions had been cleared by now and logging had diversified over the landscape.

“It’s harder to detect by satellite imagery on an annual basis.”

Ouch Leng, an environmental activist and president of the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force, claimed  he could confirm that large-scale illegal logging and timber business across the border took place late last year and early this year and would continue in the next dry season.

“I will help Mr Hun Sen fight against large-scale logging,” he said. “But anyway, he has been aware of illegal logging cases for many decades.”

He added that the large-scale deforestation was not carried out by poor people. When forests were destroyed quickly, it was by a timber businessman.

“That is a strong concern and is difficult for environmentalists to protect,” he said.

Data released by US-based NGO Forest Trends this month said that between January and June Vietnamese customs registered the importation of 313,000 cubic metres of Cambodian timber, worth $142 million.

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