Activists Accuse Officials of Returning Chainsaws to Loggers

Despite last month’s establishment of a high-level government task force charged with rooting out il­legal logging, the Prey Long Com­munity Network said on Monday that a recent patrol carried out by more than 180 activists had yielded evidence of continued forest crimes—and collusion between loggers and local forestry officials.

In a report released on Monday, the network says its activists discovered 75 cubic meters of first- and second­-grade timber, 159 felled trees and 283 hectares of cleared land over the course of a five-day pa­trol that began on February 1 in Prey Long, a 650,000-hectare forest straddling Kompong Thom, Preah Vi­hear, Stung Treng and Kratie provinces.

Three members of the Prey Long Community Network rest near a stockpile of confiscated timber during a patrol of the Prey Long forest earlier this month. (Nou Narith)
Three members of the Prey Long Community Network rest near a stockpile of confiscated timber during a patrol of the Prey Long forest earlier this month. (Nou Narith)

“The illegal logging and transporting of wood is still happening in the four provinces, even since the il­legal logging task force was established almost a month ago,” the re­port says, referring to a committee es­tablished last month by Prime Min­ister Hun Sen, which has been con­ducting operations in the country’s eastern provinces with the goal of stamping out illicit log­ging and cross-border timber smuggling.

The reports says that the activists also handed over 19 confiscated chainsaws, two homemade guns and one crossbow to cantonment-level Forestry Admini­stration officials.

Srey Thay, an activist who was part of a group of 44 people who en­tered the forest in Preah Vihear, said he believed the loggers they encountered were in league with those same officials.

“We now do not trust the For­es­try Administration because we hand­ed the confiscated chainsaws to them [after a previous patrol], but they returned them to the loggers,” he said.

“We met the loggers in the forest and they showed us the chainsaws. They told us that the chainsaws we con­fiscated from them are now back in their hands and that they received the chainsaws from the Forestry Administration.”

Noun Sokhom, deputy chief of the Forestry Administration’s Preah Vi­hear cantonment, denied this claim.

“Our officials never returned the chainsaws to the loggers as those peo­ple accused us, because we al­ways report to the national Forestry Ad­ministration,” he said.

Eng Hy, spokesman for the new mil­itary police-led task force, dismissed the activists’ entire report.

“I wish to state that the information about illegal logging in Prey Long is not true because the pro­vincial levels re­ported to us that the activity is quiet,” he said.

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