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Even a pro-CPP newspaper couldn't help but criticize Hun Sen's government inaction in deforestation cases

Written By vibykhmer on Saturday, January 3, 2009 | 12:10 AM

Forest Destruction in Preah Vihear Province Blamed on 'Rich, Powerful People'

31 Dec 08
By Veasna
Samleng Yuveakchon Khmer (Voice of Khmer Youth)
currently a pro-CPP newspaper
Translated from Khmer by Anonymous

Forest crimes have continued unabated as if the culprits are not afraid of the law of the state, not even a bit. For example, there is the case of forested land along the road from Chikreng district, Siemreab province, to the region near Preah Vihear Temple being cleared and grabbed with impunity.

The local Forest Administration and environment office officials expressed frustration at these activities taking place in a protected region known as Boeng Pear Wildlife Refuge.

An environment office official in Preah Vihear province explained how difficult it is to crack down on and prevent forest crimes. He said, "There are few protectors but far more numerous destroyers." About the nighttime log stealing maneuvers, he said, "They even steal the logs at night."

The protected Boeng Pear Wildlife Refuge is under threat of being totally devastated as the rich and powerful people, both locals and outsiders have cleared the forests and grabbed the land in a very lawless manner.

The forest destruction activities that have turned the area into a vast clearing started when a path was bulldozed through the forests for the construction of the road linking Ronakse commune in Chikreng district, Siemreab province, with the Preah Khan Temple of Kampong Svay in Sangkum Thmei district, Preah Vihear province. As this road was being built the state forests on both sides of the highway were also cleared and the land grabbed.

However, the local environment office and Forest Administration officials said that those who took possession of the land after destroying the forests are not the local people. Most of them are people coming from other districts and provinces.

A local official said, "They are not people around here. They come from Siemreab or from Stoung in Kampong Thum. They bought the forested land and hired the locals to clear the forests for them."

NGOs and the local people asserted that the protected concession forests of the Ministry of Tourism and the forests under the jurisdiction of the Boeng Pear Wildlife Refuge between Ronakse commune in Sangkum Thmei district, Preah Vihear province, and Khvav commune, Chikreng district, Siemreab province, are under a serious threat of being completely decimated by those who clear the area for grabbing by private parties.

An NGO employee working with the local forest and fishing communities in many regions of Preah Vihear province who talked on condition of anonymity said the protected concession forests of the Ministry of Tourism and the forests in the protected Boeng Pear Wildlife Refuge are badly devastated because of the clearing and grabbing activities following the opening of the construction site of the road from Khvav commune, Chikreng district, Siemreab province, to Preah Khan Temple of Kampong Svay in Sangkum Thmei district, Preah Vihear province.

Head of the Preah Vihear provincial environment office Khoy Khunchanroat said that the area was not under the jurisdiction of his provincial environment office but under the control of the protected Boeng Pear Wildlife Refuge. He also said that forest crimes are widespread because there are more perpetrators than law enforcers who are undermanned and thus cannot fight the crimes everywhere.

Khoy Khunchanroat said, "The protectors are few but the destroyers are numerous. We do our best to protect the trees, but sometimes they stealthily cut them at night."

According to some NGOs, in the region from Sangkum Thmei district to the Phnum Dek area adjacent to Siemreab province the logging of trees to grab land is causing a serious destruction of the environment, and currently many professional tree poachers who use ox and buffalo carts to transport the timber have reportedly come over from Prey Long village in Stoung district, Kampong Thum province equipped with large mechanical saws. As for the raids by the competent authorities, they are few and far between and sometimes the operations were only to collect bribes from the loggers and timber merchants.

The destruction of the forests in the region between Siemreab and Preah Vihear provinces is now at its most alarming stage. No institution concerned has come out to accept clear responsibility because everybody seeks to avoid being blamed; so none of them wants to acknowledge responsibility. However, most observers hold that the specialized institutions should be responsible since they have also received some benefit from the merchants who have logged the trees and destroyed the forests.

If one wants to arrest the tree poachers in the above region, it is certainly not difficult because the logs are transported out of the forests on carts pulled by oxen or water buffaloes and on big trucks. However, the specialized authorities, especially the Forest Administration, do not act as the protectors of the forests who would lay in wait to arrest the bad guys; instead, they act as the protectors of the tree poachers. For this reason, it is not possible to suppress the present lawless illegal logging that is reported all over the country.

The Royal Government has sometimes issued warnings against the criminals who were destroying the forests, using strong words, such as cautioning them that they could be confronted and sent to the court for prosecution. Following such warnings the forest clearing activities appeared to space out a little, at least in regions where these activities were directly mentioned and names of those involved were pointed out.

Of course, there were some activities aimed at suppressing the forest crimes and conducted by the government authorities, such as the arrests of those involved in the logging of 400 trucks of luxury wood at the forested highlands of Virakchey National Park northeast of Rotanakiri province, which is located in the northeastern most part of the country.

This crime was discovered in 2005 through the cooperation between the government's Ministry of Environment and the World Bank, the biggest international financier of the effort to promote Cambodia's development work and conserve its forest resources.

Huge piles of logs of precious wood trees scattering in the forest clearings were discovered by that mission when it was flying over the region to investigate the reported forest crimes in Cambodia.

Big regional officials, including the provincial governor, police chief, and military commander, were found involved in the felonious logging activities in this region. They were then arrested and prosecuted, except the then provincial governor Kham Khoeun, who has remained at large. Later, it was rumored that Kham Khoeun had taken refuge in a neighboring country.

Again and again in the past, officials of the NGOs, including Global Witness, incriminated the government with what they claimed to be evidence of its involvement in forest crimes. But the government steadily denied these charges, saying that this news was untrue and was fabricated by critics bent on vilifying the government.


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