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- May 31, 2019 3:22 AM
The Ministry of Environment denounced activists who raised the alarm and insisted its officials are professional.
PHNOM PENH--Forest activists on Wednesday claimed that more cases of forest deforestation around the Cardamom Mountains in Pursat province.
Heng Sros said that there were two groups of workers who were logging and hauling timber in the mountainous sanctuary of Pursat province.
“All deforestation links with systematic corruption,” he said.
Sros revealed that a foreman, known only as Ta Thong, is apparently in charge of purchasing wood in the area. Thong informed Sros that the logging is being done on the instruction of timber tycoon Koh Sophy, who is accused of much illegal logging and deforestation, as well as bribing authorities in Pursat and beyond.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said that the ministry does not respond to the accusations of political activists who Pheaktra accused of hiding behind the label of environmentalists and defenders of natural resources.
The Ministry of Environment went on to claim it always cooperates with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), associations and other registered groups that have proper agreements in place with the government. Pheaktra stressed that the ministry is working honestly and beneficially for the management and conservation of natural resources, he added.
Despite these claims, illegal logging and deforestation have been linked to land concessions given out by the government for years. Oknha Try Pheap, who was hit with sanctions by the United States in December 2019, is a long-serving ally of Prime Minister Hun Sen and is believed to be at the center of an illegal logging empire.
The Cambodian government awarded Try Pheap Group the exclusive rights to purchase all illegally logged timber that had been seized by the government, allowing him to forge a multi-million dollar logging empire—even as Hun Sen publicly denounced deforestation.
Pheap, however, is not alone. According to Global Witness, a British NGO focused on land rights and environmental protection, found that Cambodia has lost close to 2.2 million hectares of tree cover between 2001 and 2018. In the same period, Global Witness found that 557,000 hectares of tree cover had disappeared from areas that were supposed to be protected.
Currently, there are 1,260 protection officers at the Ministry of Environment who are supposed to prevent illegal exploitation of the country’s natural resources and operate 60 conservation corridors which are collectively cover around 7.2 million hectares across Cambodia.
Pheaktra said that all officers are professionals and follow the rule of law to protect natural resources, adding that any crackdown on illegal activity is based on Cambodia’s existing laws.
“The ministry has a lot of work to do to protect a sustainable environment and our natural resources,” he said.
In April 2020, four activists, including Ouch Leng, founder of the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force, were arrested and then released after Think BioTech accused them of trespassing. Despite facing no charge, the activists fear that further reprisals are imminent.