[Editor's note: In the weeks leading into national polls, VOA Khmer will explore a wide number of election issues. The "Election Issues 2008" series will air stories on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a related "Hello VOA" guest on Thursday. This is the second in a two-part series examining concerns of rural voters.]
The people of Dung Ba commune, in Battambang province, are concerned about the environment around them, where forest devastation in former Khmer Rouge areas still continues. Meanwhile, government officials say Cambodia’s environment is much better off than many other countries.
Over the past few years in Dung Ba, a beautiful green forest has been turned into rice paddy, bit by bit, villagers say.
Villager Horn Bon looked at the stump of a tree, cut down to make way for the fields, as he worried what the next generation would see.
“Surely our people want to maintain the environment,” he said, “but environment officials destroy the trees, and they don’t lead people to plant trees, or protest. Instead they keep cutting more trees. Then they grab the land, as they kill wildlife in the forest.”
Dung Ba is just one of the places where environmental degradation is taking place across rural Cambodia. Environmental advocates say Cambodia’s forests continue to be cut down, often by powerful illegal logging companies but also by individuals.
The problem is worse around election time, said Chem Sophay Mony, an environmental advocate that has worked in Battambang province.
As elections approach, officials allow villagers to harvest wood, leading to increased environmental destruction, he said.
“The real situation is that close to election time, state authorities always let people cut trees, and they don’t care about this,” he said.
Sun Chom, deputy director of the Forest Administration in Koh Krol district, Battambang, said less trees are cut here than in other areas, while officials have confiscated trucks and machinery.
But the cutting continues, and observers worry Cambodia will lose much of its natural environment.
Environment Minister Mok Mareth said that Cambodia has retained about 60 percent of its natural environment.
No environment officer will allow the cutting of trees, he said, an any violation of the policy would be unforgivable.
“I have appointed an investigating officer to go out there and make inspections for the Ministry of Environment,” he said. “After an investigation finds those involved in illegal logging, they must be forced to face punishment.”
The ministry and police have already arrested some violators of the law, he said, and they have been sent to jail.