NGOS have accused logging tycoon Try Pheap’s MDS Import-Export Company – which had a licence to clear forest during the construction of the Stung Atai hydropower dam in Pursat – of continuing to log the area despite the dam being finished.
Ouch Leng, director of the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force (CHRTF), said he and officials from two other NGOs visited the dam site last week and observed logging in the area.
“The [Stung] Atai hydropower dam is operational and the reservoir is full, so why does the company still log wood?” Leng said. “In fact, they are just using the licence as an excuse.”
Two other NGOs – the Natural Resource Protection Group and another that did not want to be named due to fear of repercussions – accompanied CHRTF members on the visit and supported Leng’s claims that logging was continuing around the Chinese-built dam in Veal Veng district.
Documents seen by the Post show that the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries approved a request in 2009 for MDS to collect wood from the area while the dam was under construction.
“[T]he ministry agreed with the request of the Forestry Administration by permitting … Mr Kev Chann Thorn, representative of MDS Import and Export, to collect wood … at the Atai hydropower dam,” reads a letter from the ministry, dated May 4, 2009.
Leng said that due to a lack of transparency in the bidding process, Pheap was able to buy the timber for just a fraction of what he would have been able to sell it for.
According to the same document, inked by ministry secretary-general Lor Rasmey, MDS was permitted to pay only $189 for every cubic metre of luxury timber it took from the site. Certain grades of luxury timber can fetch thousands of dollars per cubic metre.
One of the unnamed NGO workers who went to the site last week said he saw up to 20 MDS trucks transporting timber out of the dam area and along National Road 4.
“The activity is completely illegal, but they say they are restoring the area. How can forest remain?” he said.
A representative of MDS Import-Export, who asked not be named, denied the allegations, saying that the company’s contract finished last year.
“How can we log in Pursat province? There are international conservation groups such as CI and Wildlife Alliance that monitor very strictly and use planes to check the middle of the forest,” he said.
Pheap, who has licences to clear economic land concessions across the country, has been accused of cross-border timber smuggling and forcing the eviction of more than 1,400 families in his quest for ELCs.
Rasmey and Khorn Sareth, a senior Forestry Administration official, could not be reached for comment yesterday.