PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – The Prime Minister of Cambodia Hun Sen has vowed to protect and conserve the environment. The vow was made at the second annual National Forum on the Protection and Conservation of Natural Resources at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh.
The event, which was launched in 2016 has given activitists, NGOs and members of civil society the opportunity to raise their concerns directly with the Prime Minister, who has been lambasted for presiding over years of widespread illegal logging, land grabs and environmental degradation.
After comments by the Environment Minister Say Samal, who highlighted the successful deployment of the 300 new rangers promised at last year’s forum, the Prime Minister, once again, delivered a lengthy speech before taking questions from the audience – some of whom were contacted in advance to discuss their queries.
During the lengthy address, the Prime Minister repudiated suggestions that “Cambodia’s forest had disappeared”, claiming that the country’s forest area was burgeoning with the help of a million hectares of rubber plantations, which are among the agricultural industries counted by the government as forming part of the forest.
He also chastised logging tycoons, likening logging to “hacking” his “head”, while emphasising that authorities were “not to tolerate” perpetrators of the trade which, according to recent Vietnamese customs figures, remains substantial despite a year-long clampdown.
The Prime Minister denounced NGOs, accusing them of diverting money to exorbitantly paid foreign staffers instead of creating employment opportunities for locals, lashed out at investigative group Global Witness, which has published damning reports about politically-connected logging cartels, He also dug into his political opponents with a stern warning that Cambodia’s armed forces were “in my hands”