Cambodia: Local Groups Say They Must Protect Forest, as Government Fails

WASHINGTON — Local watchdog groups say they have been forced to take forest protection into their hands, due to a failure of government to do so.

“As we have seen: the National Assembly, the Senate and the government do not work,” Ouch Leng, head of the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force, told “Hello VOA” on Thursday. “We have had to appeal to all people, especially those living around the forest, to stand up together to protect the forests.”

That kind of appeal has in the past led to groups of forest citizens patrols, who burn illegal lumber where they find it. It has also led to widespread demonstrations, sometimes violent, over forced evictions and destruction of forest lands.

The formation of these kinds of groups “is not illegal,” Ouch Leng said. “Because the constitution stipulates that we are the owners of the land and water, the forests, the owners of the lakes, all of these.”

Companies receive licenses from government officials and clear the concession forests, he said. They then hire people to cut down trees in protected areas, and transfer the logs from these illegal areas to their legal concession sites. That has led to major deforestation in across the country, he said.

Ouch Leng urged the government to consult with local villagers before granting more concessions to companies. “Because our country is democratic, there must be agreement together,” he said. “They cannot solely make the decision.”

Much of Cambodia’s forest cover is now gone, he said, replaced by rubber plantations, and what remains should be preserved.

Chan Thy, who investigates forest crimes, told “Hello VOA” on Thursday that at least 10 trucks worth of logs leave the country each day, through Vietnam.

“These natural resources will be destroyed if we don’t all participate in their preservation,” he said.