The National Independent Cambodian Environment Team has asked the Ministry of Environment to consider allowing people to patrol protected natural areas without prior authorisation.
NICET insisted that young people, communities and civil society organisations should have the right to protect natural resources without permission from ministries or institutions.
The request came after Environment Minister Say Samal said on November 22 that environmental and forestry activists should request permission from provincial authorities before going on patrol in protected areas to maintain safety.
NICET issued an open letter criticising the minister’s actions, saying it is meant to deprive citizens from their rights indirectly.
The organisation also recalled Prime Minister Hun Sen’s call to the general public, youth and communities to participate in the protection of natural resources.
NICET member Heng Sros said the constitution states that Khmer citizens of either sex have the right to participate actively in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the nation.
Mr Sros said requesting authorisations before patrolling forested areas seem to provide a signal to the perpetrators to flee the area.
“This seems to protect the perpetrators rather than those who protect the natural resources,” he said. “Also, preparing the documents for the request is costly for the community. Where can they get the money for this?”
NICET said that according to their observations in protected areas, Cambodia’s forests have been cut down massively, with wood traders and tycoons cutting down and exporting timber outside the country.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Sao Sopheap said the government has given people the right to patrol and protect in natural protected communities without prior permission.
For natural resource protected areas, however, the ministry asks for collaboration with environment officials for patrolling and conservation.
“The government welcomes all to participate in the process of protecting and preserving,” Mr Sopheap said. “However, citizens are not police officers, so they cannot implement legal action by themselves, which is why they must cooperate with authorities.”
On November 26, a group of ten environmental and forest activists were banned by Preah Vihear province environmental officers from entering the Prey Lang protected area to put up anti-logging banners.