Illegal logging in Angkor area a 'cause for concern'

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Thnong trees (Pterocarpus macrocarpus)– known for their large trunks and luxurious timber – were illegally logged in Banteay Srei village of Khnar Sanday commune recently. SUPPLIED

Forestry officials in Siem Reap province's Banteay Srei district have asked the government to put controls on the ownership and purchase of chainsaws after cases of illegal logging in the Angkor area that comprises the district continued to rise.

Thnong trees (Pterocarpus macrocarpus)– known for their large trunks and luxurious timber – were illegally logged in Banteay Srei village of Khnar Sanday commune recently.

Officials from the Banteay Srei Forestry Administration – in cooperation with the Apsara National Authority (ANA) and Khnar Sanday commune authorities – investigated the illegal logging of a Thnong tree with a diameter of 1.20m and a height of six metres that was recently chopped down.

As of September 29 the trunk of the tree had been left at the scene of the crime, as those responsible were apparently waiting for the water to recede there in order to retrieve it, but a team of workers from the commune were able to confiscate it before they managed to return.

ANA deputy director-general Long Kosal said that it was not known when the perpetrators actually cut down the tree, but it was first discovered on the morning of September 29.

“After we saw that someone cut down the tree, we immediately contacted the Forestry Administration and other experts to check and find out when it happened. We do not know for sure but it seems like it must have just happened in the past few days,” he said.

Kosal said it was suspected that the loggers who cut the thnong tree down intended to cut it into pieces to move it more easily and then sell it because thnong is a valuable luxury wood.

"It is very regrettable that wicked people come to cut down the luxury trees and they do not consider the general public interest of Cambodian society as a whole,” Kosal said.

As to the efforts to find the perpetrators of the illegal logging, Kosal said that the competent authority to continue the investigation would be the Forestry Administration.

Heng Kimhong, head of research and advocacy for the Cambodian Youth Network Association, said that illegal logging in the Angkor area is of heightened concern since it is impacting a World Heritage Site that much of the local economy directly relies upon and even the national economy partly relies upon.

Kimhong suggested that the government take control of the possession and sale of chainsaws with a system of registration, because they are not properly managed – as evidenced by the anarchic use of them in both the Angkor area and the protected area.

“As I work in the field of environmental and natural resources, I believe that there should be controls placed on the use of chainsaws in order to facilitate the identification of perpetrators, and the authorities should pay more attention to patrolling the Angkor area because it is not the first time that the Angkor area has been logged illegally and the loggers have not been found. In the past, there have been cases of rosewood being cut down and the loggers were never found,” he said.

Kimhong also noted that cutting a thnong tree down of such a large size as the one logged in Banteay Srei indicated that it was not done in one day and he questioned why the authorities did not know about the destruction.

“It may be related to the negligence of officials in the performance of the public functions of the sub-national administration, especially environment, ANA and Forestry Administration officials, so there should be an audit on the capacity of these officials. How do they keep letting this same thing happen? They need to take responsibility for their negligent work before the law,” he said.

In mid-June 2022, four 50-year-old rosewood trees (Dalbergia cochinchinensis) were logged illegally from a 1,880ha rosewood grove in Khnat Po and Wat villages in Banteay Srey district and on March 31, 2021 there was also a case of perpetrators logging rosewood trees illegally in the first protected area of Angkor resort.

According to a report by Siem Reap provincial environmental officials, in the time period from 2020 until the beginning of 2021 there were at least 10 cases of illegal logging of rosewood trees in the Angkor area, including some cases where environment officials confiscated evidence and filed cases with the court.