PHNOM PENH - Forestry activists in Cambodia say illegal logging is putting the country's last major forests in jeopardy.
Activists gathered in Phnom Penh Wednesday told reporters that just this year alone, at least 55,000 tons of luxury wood were sent to China as part of what they allege is a “systematic” trade that includes the participation of high-ranking officials and security forces.
Em Sopheak, an activist from eastern Mondulkiri province who works with the Community Legal Education Center, places the blame on corruption.
“The authorities are complicit in a system, from the governor to the village chief," he said.
Meanwhile, Environment Ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap met with reporters to dispute claims that the government is not doing enough to combat the problem.
“The government has what we call a policy to preserve the forest. One, continue to fight against forest crimes, prevent logging, deforestation and destruction of any natural resources; two, as far as forestry is concerned, we continue a program to preserve forest and restore forest," he said. "We have a program to replant trees in areas where the forest is damaged or destroyed.”
The Ministry of Agriculture reports a major increase in reported forestry crimes, from around 500 in 2012 to nearly 1,900 in the first nine months of this year.
But 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 Environment.
Mom Sokin, a member of the Community Peace Network in Kratie province, says company trucks also move illegal timber.
“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 the land cover today. Activists say that could drop to as little as 20 percent by 2020.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.