Environmentalists Warn of Continuing Deforestation in Koh Kong, Pursat

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Trailers carrying timber and firewood last month in Kampong Speu’s Trapaing Chor commune. (Meng Kruypunlok/VOD)
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Environmentalists are calling for more action to protect the Cardamom Mountains National Parks and Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary, which they say are suffering illegal logging on a daily basis.

Chea Hean, the head of ACNCIPO — an abbreviation for watchdog group Anti-Corruption, Natural Resource Protection and Civil Rights Protection — said his group had submitted a letter to Environment Minister Say Sam Al in early March about illegal logging in the protected areas in Koh Kong, Pursat and Kampong Speu provinces.

The group had followed up residents’ reports and found a large amount of timber being trafficked out of specific routes in the parks, Hean said.

Hean said he had submitted the letter because he believed local officials would only take sustained action if given orders from above.

However, a recent visit again to the areas had found the transport of wood continuing unabated, he said last Friday, alleging corruption and complicity among local officials.

“This is according to the claims of loggers I interviewed. They said they came to cut down the trees after paying environmental officials,” Hean said. Kampong Speu residents have previously also told VOD of alleged bribes. “Officials in the areas are committing crimes if they allow deforestation by accepting bribes per truck — 70,000 to 80,000 riel,” or about $20. “It’s still going on.”

Pursat provincial environment director Kong Puthyra could not be reached, but Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the ministry always cooperates with partner organizations working on environmental issues to prevent forest crime.

However, if there are any crimes, partner organizations must provide evidence to the ministry to take action, he said. Park rangers always protect natural resources responsibly, he said, arguing there was now only small-scale illegal logging driven by local residents.

“What we all need to do is create a local economy, job opportunities for the people,” he said. “NGOs that love the environment, that protect the environment, let them all join in finding a solution and avoid just talking.”

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