Like his father, Hun Manet vows to end illegal logging

The country still has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world.
By RFA Khmer
Like his father, Hun Manet vows to end illegal logging An illegal logging operation is seen in northern Cambodia’s Preah Roka forest, March 23, 2023.
(Prey Lang Community Network)

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet called on officials in his new government to end illegal logging in the country, which remains a problem despite similar pledges from his father, longtime strongman Hun Sen.

Hun Manet, who was handed the reins to the government by his father in August, used an annual meeting at the country’s Ministry of Environment to speak on the subject of deforestation for the first time. 

He thanked Cambodians for sharing evidence of illegal logging on his Facebook page and told officials they already had the power to stop it.

“I issued orders to relevant institutions to study the law, otherwise we will have problems,” Hun Manet said. “You have swords in your hands. I still stand behind you. You need to implement the law.”

The prime minister ordered Sao Sokha, who commands Cambodia’s national military police force and is the chairman of a task force on deforestation, to work with relevant ministries to stop illegal logging.

Environment Minister Eang Sophalleth promised harsher punishments, saying the government would end its practice of releasing perpetrators after they pledged not to repeat their offenses.

Rocket attacks

In his pledge to crack down on the practice, Hun Manet was reiterating similar declarations made more colorfully by father. Hun Sen called for rocket attacks against illegal loggers and once famously promised to cut off his own head if the practice continued under his watch.

And yet it has continued. Global Forest Watch, which tracks forest decline, has said that Cambodia lost 557,000 hectares of tree cover in protected areas between 2001-2018, or 11.7% of the total. Its rate of loss exceeds that in countries where illegal logging is also a problem, like Brazil and Indonesia, the group said.

A 2022 report from the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, a Switzerland-based group that includes law enforcement officials, said in a 2022 report that “rings of illegality” – corruption from the local to the national level and in government and business – allows illegal logging to flourish. 

The country’s tax base is too small to support the political and military infrastructure, which requires alternative forms of income, including illegal timber sales, the group said.

Illegal logging is seen in Cambodia's Preah Roka forest in Preah Vihear province, March 2021. (CYN)

Forest protection advocates said they welcomed Hun Manet’s statement but that the systemic illegality that allows illegal logging to continue will be tough to root out.

Hat Nai, an environmentalist who has pushed for more protection of the Preah Roka wildlife sanctuary in northern Cambodia, said rampant corruption leaves the forests unprotected.

“Regulations are just regulations, but the lower level officials cannot implement them because thieves have colluded with the police,” Hat Nai said. “There is no elimination of forest crime. Clearing forest land is happening all over the sanctuaries.”

Out Latin, the protect coordinator for the Cambodian Youth Network, which has also urged more action against illegal logging, told RFA that he welcomed Hun Manet's pledge to protect the forest but was skeptical his directive would be implemented. 

He said when activists have presented evidence of illegal logging environmental officials in the past have not acted, continuing to grant timber concessions to companies that are alleged to have logged in prohibited areas.

Translated by Yun Samean, and edited by Jim Snyder and Malcolm Foster.


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