A petition from more than 100 activists, monks and students called for the closure of all of the country’s sawmills and the cancellation of remaining timber export licenses in a bid to protect Cambodia’s forests and natural resources.
The petition, released on Friday, was signed by prominent environmental activists such as Ouch Leng and the Mother Nature group, as well as right group Adhoc’s spokesman Soeng Senkaruna, Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community director Theng Savoeun and Cambodian Youth Network co-founder Tim Malay.
It claimed sawmills were being supplied not from forestry plantations but rather by loggers illegally cutting down trees in protected areas.
Sawmills were frequently fenced off and protected by armed guards, preventing NGOs and journalists from investigating their businesses, making it imperative that the national government monitor them, it said.
“Cambodia does not have a system or mechanism to monitor and regulate sawmills and wood processing sites,” the petition said. “By the time the national level found out about the sawmills and wood processing sites’ illegal activities, many 10,000s of hectares of our ancient forests were gone.”
All remaining timber export licenses should also be rescinded, it said. The amount of money going into trying to protect the forests was greater than government revenue gained from such licenses, it argued.
“The timber trade for exporting provides opportunities for corruption,” it added.
Srey Vuthy, spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
Leng, the environmental activist, said the government, displaying a reluctance to end the lucrative trade, was issuing new export licenses even as it ended older permits.
Companies granted economic land concessions regularly cut wood from outside their boundaries, he added.
“The government should show a real will to protect natural resources and forests,” Leng said.
Meanwhile, amid a governmental forestry crackdown initiated in July, the Mondulkiri Provincial Court has summoned another senior Agriculture Ministry official for questioning related to a Vietnamese company’s economic land concession.
According to a court document obtained on Friday, court prosecutor Hieng Sopheak summoned secretary of state Chan Savuth to appear before the court on September 12 at 9 a.m.
Last week, the court also questioned Lor Reaksmey, a ministry undersecretary of state, in relation to the Pacific Grand Joint-Stock Company and suspicions of logging outside its permitted areas.
Pacific Grand is owned by Vietnamese national Pham Quoc Long, who serves as the company’s director. The company received a concession in Mondulkiri’s Koh Nhek district in 2011 for a rubber plantation.
Pham was scheduled to appear before the court’s prosecutor on August 30 to answer questions regarding links to illegal logging but he did not appear, according to court spokesman Mam Vanda.
Authorities have been ramping up efforts against forestry crimes in the province. Two well-known timber tycoons, Soeng Sam Ol and Kong Kroeng, have been indicted for allegedly running large-scale illegal logging operations in Kratie and Mondulkiri provinces.
About 20 other people, including provincial environment officials and owners of companies, have been summoned to be questioned over links to forestry crimes.
Keo Omaliss, director-general of the Forestry Administration, could not be reached for comment on Sunday.