Patrolers found more than 4,200 cases of illegal logging and other forestry crimes in the first half of the year, an increase of 15 percent, as authorities continued to say that large-scale timber trafficking had been eliminated in the country.
Authorities have been claiming victory over illegal logging for years, including in 2016 following the establishment of a national anti-logging task force. Taskforce spokesman Eng Hy told the Cambodia Daily at the time that “illegal logging has been completely stopped,” despite the seizure of 5,431 cubic meters of luxury wood in one haul in Kratie province.
Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said on Thursday: “The Ministry of Environment would like to emphasize that large-scale natural resource crimes in protected areas no longer exist.”
However, small-scale crimes still occur, and rangers had dealt with 4,238 cases of forestry crimes in the first six months of this year, with 515 of them sent to court, he said.
According to local media reports, the corresponding figures for the first six months of 2020 were 3,689 incidents and 329 cases sent to court — leading to 15 and 57 percent increases in 2021, respectively.
Pheaktra siad more than 1,260 rangers were employed by the state to patrol more than 7 million hectares for deforestation, encroachment, hunting and other crimes.
“The Ministry of Environment will continue its mission with high responsibility and professionalism in the management and conservation of protected areas in Cambodia for generations to come,” he said.
Hy, the anti-logging task force spokesman, said on Thursday that illegal timber seizures in 2020 and 2021 were around 5,000 cubic meters, but did not have exact figures.
Environmentalists working around the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary — a major protected area from which they were banned from conducting community patrols last year — say widespread illegal logging continues without decrease.
Satellite data has also suggested a loss of over 47,000 hectares of protected forests — larger than Angkor Archaeological Park — in both 2020 and 2019. Cambodia has lost 24 percent of its tree cover since 2001, according to Global Forest Watch.
Hoeun Sopheap, Prey Lang Community Network coordinator in Kampong Thom province, alleged that deforestation in Prey Lang was continuing with the involvement of law enforcement officials.
“Logging and transporting are possible because authorities help monitor the road and facilitate traffic,” Sopheap said.
Heng Kimhong, head of the research and advocacy program of the Cambodian Youth Network, said community members around Prey Lang in Preah Vihear province had monitored timber trafficking, and found 366 cases in just five days earlier this month.
The discovery “is a sign by which we note that forest crimes continue to occur, and do not decrease,” Kimhong said.
As the community members are banned from entering the protected area, they monitor areas near its borders or enter stretches that do not have state rangers, he said.
Last month, the U.S. announced it was cutting millions of dollars in aid to the government for protecting Prey Lang due to the silencing of local communities and activists while “not adequately” prosecuting and putting an end to illegal logging. The U.S. said it would divert the money to support civil society, private actions and local efforts.