Cambodia’s Hun Sen blames deforestation on the country’s poor

But activists and citizens fire back, saying ruling elites are at fault.
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Cambodia’s Hun Sen blames deforestation on the country’s poor Illegally harvested timber is shown in the Preah Roka Wildlife Sanctuary in Preah Vihear province, Cambodia, in a March 2021 photo.
Cambodian Youth Network

Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen blamed the country’s poor this week for the country’s growing loss of forest cover, saying authorities should now demolish all wooden houses built after 1979 to reclaim the materials from which they were built.

“Doors, window frames, and other parts of these houses are all made of wood,” said the long-ruling prime minister, speaking on Monday at Cambodia’s Ministry of Land Development.

Trees were cut down to make firewood for cooking, while others were used to make charcoal, Hun Sen said, dismissing accusations of complicity in the decades-long destruction of the country’s forests.

“Everyone just curses Hun Sen, says he allows people to cut down all the trees, and then blames him for their loss. Nobody really allows this, but for different reasons it became necessary for all those trees to be cut down,” he said.

Forest protection activists and Cambodian citizens quickly rejected Hun Sen’s remarks, with many saying authorities do nothing to prevent supporters of Cambodia’s ruling party from illegally exporting timber to neighboring Vietnam, a major buyer of luxury hard wood.

“It is the rich and powerful who are destroying the forests in Cambodia, and not the smaller citizens,” said forest protection activist Heng Sros, adding that poorer Cambodians who use wood to build their houses typically buy their timber from local warehouses and markets, where they pay taxes.

Many of Cambodia’s most powerful businessmen, military and police officers, and government officials now collude with traders to commit forest crimes, he said.

“If Hun Sen really wants to restore his image, he should take action to eradicate corruption and to arrest offending officials and put them in jail. That will be the only way to save what’s left of our forests,” he said.

Government officials also grant concessions of land to private companies that operate inside Prey Lang Forest and other protected areas, setting up logging depots and stockpiles of illegally harvested wood, said Srey Tey, a Prey Lang Network community member in central Cambodia’s Kampong Thom province.

“Government officials are complicit with the offenders that are destroying so many of our forests,” he said. “If these losses were caused just by people cutting down wood to build their houses, we wouldn’t have lost so many of our trees.”

“The officials responsible for our environment are not protecting the forests,” he said.

Srey Nich, a resident of northeastern Cambodia’s Strung Treng province, agreed.

“If people were cutting down trees just to build houses, we wouldn’t be running out of forest now,” he said, adding, “It is time for us to save our forests for the next generations.”

Hun Sen’s remarks blaming Cambodia’s poor for the country’s forest loss were “completely inappropriate,” said Te Srey Nich, a resident of eastern Cambodia’s Mondulkiri province.

“The law should be strengthened and communities’ capacity built up so that they understand the law and can take action to protect the forests,” she said.

“Now we have people who understand the law but abuse the law.”

Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand declined to sign a global pact at the COP26 summit in Glasgow this month to end and reverse forest loss by 2030, even while Southeast Asia—home to around 15 percent of the world’s tropical forests—is among its major deforestation hotspots.

Cambodia has lost 26 percent of its tree cover, equivalent to about 5.7 million acres, since 2000 according to satellite imagery.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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Samy Inn
Nov 12, 2021 04:48 PM

As long time politician, Hun Sen never see and say the truth. After Viet Nam invasion to rescue Cambodians from Pol Pot I walked from Battambang to Phnom Penh I did not see any house along the national route number five. In Phnom Penh I could not see my house but I recognize its lot, mostly wild bird and animal such as rabbits, deer.