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Cambodia confiscates 4 tons of ‘yellow vine’ in crackdown

Park rangers in Cambodia have confiscated 4 tons of “yellow vines” – believed to be a drug precursor – that were illegally harvested from forests, but environmentalists told Radio Free Asia that the government needs to arrest the vine poachers instead of merely confiscating their loot.

The Ministry of Environment announced on its Facebook page on Tuesday that rangers in the northeastern province of Stung Treng province confiscated 4 tons of turmeric vines in Sam village, Sekong Commune, Sesan District, from trucks that were headed to the border with Laos.

RFA previously reported that smugglers were sneaking into a Cambodian national park to harvest vine and bring it to Laos process into the drug ecstasy or MDMA.

But authorities need to do more than confiscate the vines,  Ly Chandaravuth, an activist with the environmental group Mother Nature told RFA Khmer. 

“If perpetrators are not arrested, I’m concerned that these crackdowns are not different from other previous crackdowns,” he said. “The authorities were only able to apprehend the evidence, but not the perpetrators.” 

RFA attempted to contact Environment Ministry spokesman Khay Atiya for comment but he was not able to respond.

Stung Treng Provincial Hall spokesman Men Kung told RFA that the provincial authorities are continuing to search for those involved.

“If the government officials carry out their duties contrary to the government policies, they would face the government management regulations for both civil servants and armed forces,” said Men Kung. 

“But so far, Provincial Unity Command has been inspired and encouraged by the work and accomplishment of law enforcement, who were able to [confiscating the vines] in this case.”

Am Sam Ath of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights said that if authorities don’t arrest vine poachers, then crackdowns won’t be effective.

“If the authorities could arrest the perpetrators, the identities of those involved in the crime would be disclosed too and then the authorities would be able to bring them to justice,” said Sam Ath.   

Though it is not clear what sentence the vine poachers should receive, the 2002 Forestry Law stipulates that the establishment of yellow vine processing bases or other handicraft bases that bring about the destruction of forests shall be punishable by imprisonment from five to 10 years.

Translated by Sum Sok Ry. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.