Ministry institutes new permanent secretariat to prevent forest crimes

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Forestry authorities unload seized lumber from a truck in Pursat province in 2017. Photo supplied

A forestry administration spokesman on Thursday said the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries had recently created a new permanent secretariat to prevent all types of forestry crimes, with a particular focus on illegal rosewood trading.

Forestry Administration Department of Legislation and Enforcement director Suon Sovann said a permanent secretariat, called the National Permanent Secretariat for the Prevention and Interception of Logging, Transporting, Collecting, Storing and Exporting of Rosewood, was established on January 4.

He said the unit consists of members from the ministries of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; National Defence; Interior; Commerce; Environment, the National Military Police and municipal and provincial governors Kingdomwide.

“The core task of this unit mainly focuses on rosewood, but not exclusively, because that type of timber is rare in our country,” said Sovann, who will serve as secretary of the newly created body.

He said timber traders used tricks to log, haul, collect, store and export rosewood abroad by hiding it with other types of luxury timber.

“All illegal timber will be intercepted. However, if there is no rosewood involved, the national permanent secretariat will hand the case to the Forestry Administration, which will take further action,” he said.

Sovann said the establishment of the Secretariat aims to strengthen and fulfil recent government orders to prevent and intercept forestry crimes in all forms, especially the logging and trafficking of rosewood.

The Cambodian government had previously created a Committee for Forest Crime Prevention led by Sao Sokha. The committee investigated crimes involving natural resources, including forest clearing and animal trafficking.

While the committee saw some success in arresting and convicting perpetrators, logging, hauling, collecting, storing and trafficking of forestry products remains widespread, especially along Cambodia’s borders with Thailand, Lao and Vietnam.

Civil society organisations monitoring forestry crimes in Cambodia claimed that the establishment of yet another institution on forestry crimes shows the ineffectiveness of law enforcement on this matter.

Goldman Environmental Prize winner Ouch Leng said there was a culture of “impunity” to address before these measures would be successful.

“The effectiveness of law enforcement does not depend on the establishment of another institution. Most of the prominent timber traders have close connections with high ranking officials."

“Therefore, the establishment of more institutions are useless if they lack conscience and if a culture of impunity is not eliminated,” he said.