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More than 60 groups signed a joint statement calling for the government to shut down the timber operations of Think Biotech and Angkor Plywood in the protected area.
PHNOM PENH--Groups of forest activists called on the government to order the closure of Think Biotech and Angkor Plywood at Prey Lang, as they reported that these two companies are engaged in illegal logging activities in protected areas.
In a joint statement issued on July 21, more than 60 groups of monks, activists, community associations, and civil society organizations claimed that the two companies were still operating their timber operations, even though both companies announced earlier this year that they would be dismantling their sawmill as part of a discontinuation of board production.
The collection of activists stated that Think Biotech continues to export timber to international markets using its partner company Angkor Plywood.
“These companies have been involved in forest crimes for a long time, but the timber business of both companies is still allowed to continue,” the joint statement said. “Logs and timber are measured and the loggers paid according to agreement, at the price of 40,000 Riels (roughly $10) per one square meter. Most loggers receive material and financial support, as well as guarantees of legal protection from the company."
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said that the ministry, together with the relevant authorities, continues to implement measures to protect and conserve the protected areas it manages responsibly and take action on all-natural resource crimes that occur.
Three main pieces of legislation prohibit the plundering of natural resources and wildlife; The Law on Forestry of 2002; The Protected Areas Law of 2008 and Sub Decree Number 131/20 of 2006 on Timber and Non-Timber Forest Products Allow for Export and Import.
In the first six months of 2020, from January to June 2020, rangers of the Ministry of Environment patrolled Cambodia’s protected areas 13,804 times and cracked down on 3,689 crimes, of which 329 cases were sent to court, according to Pheaktra. He added that 2,578 vehicles were seized and 433 transitional fines were issued.
The Ministry of Environment recognizes that despite efforts to prevent and crack down on crime day and night, small-scale natural resource crimes still occur, and the ministry will continue to cooperate with the relevant authorities to continue to crack down and preventing.
Private Sector Threatens Protected Area
Groups of forest activities maintained that The Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) and other forest networks continually face being arbitrarily barred from entering natural forests. Furthermore they are persecuted and threatened with arrest by the authorities. In recent months, forest activists have been chased and hunted by government forces in and around the Prey Lang area.
“The entry ban has provided a great opportunity for forest criminals, especially timber companies, to cut down and transport timber out of protected areas with impunity,” the statement read. It detailed how logging and the transportation of felled trees are increasing, with Think Biotech and Angkor Plywood exporting illegally acquired timber into the international market.
Following a temporary reduction of company activities in early 2020, the extraction of timber from natural forests now continues unabated every day, the activists complained.
Think Biotech deploys security forces in its area of operation in Prey Lang forest, strictly guarding to prevent journalists, activists, organizations or outsiders from entering sensitive areas and to hide its timber business activities. During the period of the ban by the authorities, forest activists found that all kinds of timber, such as Beng, Sokrom, Kor Koh, and especially Chhlik, Trasek Chheu Teal and Sralao, were collected by the company and transported by hundreds of trucks, according to the statement.
On July 13, 2020, investigators found several new piles of logs scattered behind the building of Think Biotech. A convoy of eight V1 timber trucks entered the company compound transporting timber. Four trucks, which villagers and loggers reported to contain logs, were covered with tarpaulin, two trucks carrying firewood were transporting openly.
Death of an Activist
The death of the forest protection activist came after they fled from the threat of the security chief of Think Biotech.
“After receiving a threatening warning from the company's head of security during the investigation, Sen Sothea got seriously injured and subsequently died while leaving the area in a hurry driving his motorbike with fear of being retaliated against,” the statement read.
“Chhut Wutty sacrificed his life to shut down business of Yellow Vine in Koh Kong, for me, I willingly risk my life to shut down timber business of Think Biotech and Angkor Plywood at Prey Lang, for as long as it takes.” These words were spoken by Sen Sothea before his death.
Forest protection activist Heng Soros said that groups of forest activists, along with USAID, have called on the government many times already, asking them to shut down or launch an independent investigation into companies that illegally cut down trees for timber, but to no avail.
The Prey Lang area covers more than 430,000 hectares (431,683) spreading across the territory of Kampong Thom, Preah Vihear, Kratie and Stung Treng provinces. These crimes appear to persist, despite the government designating it as a wildlife sanctuary in 2016.
Global Forest Watch is an open source collection of data that shows real-time deforestation across the world. Data from Global Forest Watch shows that between 2001 and 2018, Cambodia’s protected areas lost 557,000 hectares of tree cover, about 11.7 percent of the total protected area in Cambodia.