Logging claims invite scepticism

Source: Phnom Penh Post 

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Environment Minister Say Samal holds a press conference to discuss the national resources of Cambodia. Pha Lina

Environment Minister Say Samal yesterday maintained that illegal logging operations in Cambodia were now limited to individuals felling a few trees at a time and that recent timber seizures were of logs felled long ago, claims met with scepticism by conservation observers.

The minister, who met with journalists yesterday, said that while logging cases were on the decline across the country, especially the northeast, local residents were still cutting a few trees as a means of income because they did not have jobs, though he was unable to provide any statistics to support the claim. Additionally, he said recent timber busts did not involve wood that had been cut down recently.

“You might see in the news that police or military police have cracked down [on an amount of] cubic metres of timber,” he said. “That timber was cut months ago and was just caught.”

He also dismissed claims that provincial officials were in cahoots with illegal loggers and said that if there were any such cases, action would be taken. A year ago, under the instructions of Prime Minister Hun Sen, a taskforce was created to stem the flow of illegal timber to Vietnam, with the premier even singling out two businessmen for carrying out such activities.

While the number of busts may have increased, experts have questioned whether the taskforce was effective in stopping illegal logging.

“Illegal logging activities have not slowed down, but instead have increased,” said Goldman-prize winning forest advocate Ouch Leng.

“Illegal loggers are even more blatant than they used to be before.”

He said logging by local residents was only a small part of the problem, adding that the focus instead needed to be on high-ranking officials and businessmen.

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