By: May Titthara
Date: September 27th 2016
Source: Khmer Times
Despite numerous laws and committees created to tackle deforestation and illegal logging in Cambodia, the timber trade has continued unabated.
In another attempt to deal with the issue, authorities across the country have been ordered to ensure they execute their responsibilities to oversee the enforcement of laws related to the safeguarding of the country’s natural resources, with a special focus on cracking down on the illegal logging of Cambodia’s forests and the smuggling of timber to neighboring countries.
The directive, signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen last week, states that the government has made significant reforms to how the country’s natural resources are managed. It calls on city and provincial governors as well as district and commune administrators to effectively manage the police forces, Forestry and Fisheries Administration officials, and other “competent forces” to follow their specified roles and responsibilities to protect the environment.
“They have to take careful legal action to prevent crime, and to eliminate all types of natural resources crime including land grabbing in the protected areas and to conserve the natural resources located in their area,” the directive states.
“All the relevant ministries, institutions, competent authorities and sub-national administrations have to apply the directive properly and effectively from the signature date on wards.”
The edict was signed on Thursday but not immediately released.
All management of businesses related to natural resources, including fisheries, which have been authorized by law must be carried out, and anything that has not been authorized must be monitored and “eliminated.”
Ouch Leng, president of the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force, praised the government on its ability to sign directives, but said he doubted this latest order would have any affect. He cited the example of the Prey Lang protected forest, saying that after it gained its title of being “protected,” the amount of logging has actually increased.
“I pity the government who has been seeking measures to stop the destruction of the last remaining forests, but the officials under them do not follow. Forestry Administration and related officials still continue to close their eyes and let logging and smuggling happen day and night. I think that if the government officials actually went to check forests themselves, then the forests might last a bit longer, as they will see for themselves how little is left, and they will be afraid that the prime minister might come and see the destruction for himself.”
Last week’s directive is the latest in a long series of government attempts to try and halt the rampant illegal logging that is rapidly depleting the country’s forests.
In January, a commission was established to crack down on forest crimes across the country, and to share intelligence with Laos and Vietnam on known smugglers and smuggling routes. Two military helicopters were seconded to the commission, with authorities given the order to fire upon offenders if they had to.
In June, Environment Minister Say Samal claimed that Cambodia’s border with Vietnam was completely closed to timber exports, and that this led to the end of illegal mass logging. He called for the cancellation of all forest land concessions.
Despite these claims and directives, police seizures of illegally logged and transported wood are still occurring on an almost daily basis.
Earlier this month, Sao Sokha, commander-in-chief of the country’s military police, and head of the anti-logging commission, admitted that efforts to stop illegal logging had not been successful.
“Despite efforts to prevent and crack down [on illegal logging] by forces, some news is still reporting that illegal logging and illegal timber smuggling was still happening,” he said.
According to the government, Cambodia’s forest cover is now just 49.48 percent, down from 73.04 percent in 1993. It warned that this would continue to drop if action wasn’t taken against illegal logging and land grabbing.
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