Following instructions from the ministries of Interior and National Defence, the Ministry of Environment has issued a strict set of guidelines on the storage and use of weapons by forest rangers and environment officials in natural protected areas.
This guideline prohibits anyone from firing weapons, even when on an authorised mission, except in special cases to defend themselves from immediate danger.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the guideline was intended to properly control the use of weapons and ammunition in natural protected areas in line with existing laws.
“The guideline was sent to relevant officials including all environment officials and directors of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. It instructed them to strictly adhere to the guidance,” he said.
To ensure environment officials operate in line with the Criminal Code, the Law on Natural Protected Areas and the Law on the Management of Weapons, Explosives and Ammunition, the Ministry of Environment said warehouses must be used, with lockable storage units to safely house weapons.
Inventory lists should also be prepared for all weapons and ammunition.
The guideline, which was signed by Minister of Environment Say Sam Al on Monday, said environment officials could only carry weapons on a mission to prevent or crack down on natural resource crimes in the natural protected area under their jurisdiction.
It said they must have weapon identification cards and official documents authorising their missions.
“After a mission is over, all weapons must be collected, cleaned and stored in warehouses.
“Bullets are to be removed from guns and the guns locked away safely. Inventory lists are to be recorded properly and clearly,” the guideline said.
It also ordered environment officials to make a report, including the names of one or two witnesses, to competent local officials within 24 hours of discovering the loss of any weapon, ammunition or identification card.
“Rangers in natural protected areas who are entitled to use weapons are prohibited from selling, transferring or lending weapons or ammunition to any individual under any circumstances.
“The head of each nature protected area office is responsible for meticulously managing the storage and use of weapons and ammunition,” the guideline said.
Forest activist Heng Sros said he understood that forest rangers were entitled to carry weapons to protect themselves and prevent deforestation. However, he said some rangers had used their weapons to threaten environment activists and defend loggers.
“They carry weapons to frighten people, but they don’t dare to shoot timber traders and loggers. Instead, they use their guns to threaten environment activists and prevent people from protecting the forest,” he said.
Pheaktra said the Ministry of Environment currently manages 57 natural protected areas covering 7,249,024ha.
They include national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, Unesco World Heritage Sites, biodiversity conservation corridors and Ramsar Sites – wetland sites designated to be of global importance under the Ramsar Convention.
The ministry employs some 1,220 rangers to protect and preserve the natural protected areas.