Sanctuary chief accused of allowing logging

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According to activist Kroeung Tola, there are several illegal timber factories in Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary causing serious damage to the national forest. Photo supplied

The Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary chief in Mondulkiri province has been accused of allowing illegal timber factories to operate in the protected zone.

Activist Kroeung Tola on Tuesday said in a Facebook post that Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary chief Pen Pheaktra was permitting illegal timber factories to operate in Pech Chreada district and was turning a blind eye to logging operations in Phnom Preah area.

“The illegal timber factories are causing serious damage to the national forest because they use timber that is illegally extracted from the community forest and the wildlife sanctuary,” Tola said.

Tola called on Mondulkiri provincial governor Svay Sam Eang and Mondulkiri’s Department of Environment director Keo Sopheak to send officials and police to investigate the case.

The activist asks the authorities to crack down on illegal wood-processing activities in the area and to confiscate illegally cleared areas in Phnom Preah that are privately owned.

Pheaktra could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Sopheak acknowledged that forestry and wildlife offences were still common in Mondulkiri’s wildlife sanctuaries, even though rangers regularly patrol the protected zones.

“Forest and wildlife offences are rampant in wildlife sanctuaries in Mondulkiri, but we reject any allegations that we are allowing such activities,” he said.

Last month, rangers confiscated nearly 2,000 wildlife traps and arrested 21 forest and wildlife offenders, he said.

“Five were arrested for laying traps, nine for logging, and seven for clearing forest land in Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary,” Sopheak said.

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Sen Bunsam, a resident of the forestry community in Pou Chrei commune, told The Post on Wednesday that there are now many wood-processing factories operating in the villages of Me Pai and Phang.

“I don’t know if they are legal or illegal, but these factories have only appeared recently after the authorities cracked down on this type of business in November,” he said.

Bunsam said all the timber used in these factories come from community forests and wildlife sanctuaries.

Pou Chrei commune chief Sernh Ratha told The Post he did not know the exact number of timber factories in the area. He said some villagers are involved in the wood-processing business, manufacturing desks, cupboards, beds, doors, and window frames.

“They are usually small, family-run businesses. I don’t know where the wood comes from.”

Pech Chreada district governor Merl Soeun told The Post that on Tuesday officers arrested five people suspected of being involved in the business. They have been sent to the provincial department of environment to face legal action.

Sopheak said the five suspects were sent to court on Thursday on charges of clearing forest in protected areas, a level three natural resource crime. The case is now under investigation.