Prey Lang Still Threatened

Pech Sotheary / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Illegal loggers at work in the Prey Lang forest. Supplied

Alleged illegal logging and timber exports continue to happen in the Prey Lang forest, while drug trafficking in the area is also on the rise, according to the latest Prey Lang Com-munity Network (PLCN) report yesterday.
The fifth monitoring report on the forest’s status from April to July allegedly found there were 283 cases of forest crime in Prey Lang, an increase of 14 percent compared with the previous period. 
It said “deforestation and illegal logging still remain a major threat to Prey Lang.”
Hoeun Sopheap, a PLCN representative from Kampong Thom province, said that despite designating Prey Lang as a protected area and increasing measures to crack down on forestry crime, illegal logging and timber exports still happened, especially by traders transporting timber at night. 
“Through the report in four provinces, we see no decrease and no increase either, which means that trafficking is the same and timber transport is still happening,” he said.
He said that besides deforestation by powerful traders, the PLCN also found that some local authorities – such as police as well as commune and village chiefs – were involved in logging and conspired with dealers to transport the timber out of the area.
Mr. Sopheap added that some migrant workers went to the area to log and grab land as well. 
“Information from loggers and people who transport the wood suggests that it doesn’t matter as they need to pay only 100,000 riel [about $25] for each tractor, but we don’t know clearly who is taking this money,” he said.
“Some soldiers and police officers come to get monthly money which is $15 per chainsaw. Some people also pay daily.” 
In May, nearly 432,000 hectares of Prey Lang – which covers four provinces including Kampong Thom, Kratie, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear – were designated a protected wildlife sanctuary in a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In January, Mr. Hun Sen established the National Anti-Deforestation Committee, led by Military Police Commander-in-Chief General Sao Sokha and equipped with machine guns, helicopters and rocket launchers. It was intended to crack down on illegal logging.  
Kratie PLCN representative Ek Sovanna expressed the community’s concern over the rise in drug use, trafficking and the use of homemade guns by workers at the timber depot in Prey Lang to hunt wildlife and threaten community members as well. 
“In 2012, we found drug paraphernalia belonging to chainsaw workers in small amounts, but there is a lot that makes us worried in 2016,” he said.
The report stated that tractors were the preferred means of transport for illegal loggers among other means such as trucks, carts and motorcycles. 
It also provided recommendations to protect Prey Lang, including the ongoing training of forest monitors and financial and political support to the PLCN to continue forest patrols. 
Environment Ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap said that forestry and natural resource crimes were still occurring, but on a smaller scale. 
He added that crime had declined a lot since the government and ministry put measures in place to crack down on crime along with the open participation of the community and relevant partners. 
“Overall, we don’t deny that there are offenses, but to what level has it happened? So the government created the national commission and decided to recruit more rangers as we are working hard to resolve the remaining problem,” he said.
On December 7, the government created another national commission to prevent and crack down on natural resource crime, while Environment Ministry leaders requested that 21 provincial governors monitor and take action in their respective provinces.

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