Forestry activists say at least 55,000 tons of luxury wood were sent from Cambodia to China this year alone.
Activists from communities that live near or among some of Cambodia’s last forests told reporters Wednesday that illegal logging is ravaging their homelands, part of a “systematic” trade that includes the participation of high-ranking officials, authorities and security forces.
A network of activists, from groups ranging from the northeastern provinces, the remote north, and along the southwestern Cardamom Mountains, denounced the trade, which deforests Cambodia and sends timber to China and Vietnam.
“The authorities are complicit in a system, from the governor to the village chief,” said Em Sopheak, a representative from Mondolkiri who works with the Community Legal Education Center.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture reported a major increase in reported forestry crimes, from around 500 in 2012 to nearly 1,900 in the first nine months of this year.
Activists say legitimate businesses, too, can create problems. They point to companies that have licenses to buy confiscated wood from the ministries of Agriculture and the Environment in the northeast.
But company trucks also move illegal timber, said Mom Sokin, a member of the Community Peace Network in Kratie province.
“There are about 50 to 60 trucks transporting wood each night,” she said. “They are from the provinces of Preah Vihear, Stung Treng and Kratie. Normally, they are both legal and illegal.”
Cambodia’s forests, which once covered three quarters of the country, now account for only 38 percent of cover today, and could be spread across as little as 20 percent of the country by 2020, activists say.
Sao Sopheap, chief of cabinet for the Environment Ministry, disputed the claims. “The government has a policy to fight forest crimes, and we cure and replant the forests that are destroyed,” he said.