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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - GAT axed for illegal logging

GAT axed for illegal logging

Logging concessionaire Grand Atlantic Timber International (GAT) has had its

logging concessions canceled by the government. That is in response to

allegations of illegal logging in breach of the government's logging moratorium

instituted January 1 this year.

The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and

Fisheries, Chan Sarun, told the National Assembly June 19 that the company would

no longer be allowed to work its concessions. That was in response to criticisms

from opposition MP Son Chhay that the government had done nothing to combat

widespread illegal logging.

"For example in the GAT case, the government

has decided to cancel [the concession], but has not announced it publicly yet,"

Sarun told legislators.

And in the section of his speech regarding

forestry at the annual Consultative Group (CG) meeting the following day, Prime

Minister Hun Sen told donors of the decision.

"A few days ago I signed a

sub-decree to cancel a forest concession that was in contravention with logging

regulations," he said. "The government will rigorously pursue this stance in

forest management."

The head of GAT was out of the country when the Post

contacted the company and was consequently unavailable for

comment.

Environmental NGO Global Witness welcomed the decision to cancel

GAT's concession as "excellent news". GW campaigner Jon Buckrell said the move

"should send a message to other concessionaires that illegal logging will not be

tolerated by the government".

However, Buckrell cautioned against

over-optimism, saying the NGO hoped the GAT decision would not prove an isolated

incident. In its latest report released June 21, GW alleged illegal logging this

year by Pheapimex Fuchan, which it described as "probably the best connected of

all the concessionaires".

It said the company "remains one of the worst

perpetrators of illegal and unsustainable logging".

The Post tried

unsuccessfully to contact Pheapimex about the allegations, but was told no one

was available. DFW is currently investigating the Pheapimex

case.

"Somehow Pheapimex always falls through the gaps," said Buckrell of

previous unsuccessful attempts to have the company prosecuted for alleged

abuses. "If the government cancels Pheapimex, then we will know we are getting

somewhere."

The new report, Deforestation without limits: How the

Cambodian government failed to tackle the untouchables, documents numerous

contractual breaches by logging companies including widespread failure to pay

financial deposits or royalties, and almost universal breaches of their

investment agreements.

Pheapimex was one of seven companies the

organization highlighted in its report. GW said it conducted an aerial survey of

its concession in Kampong Thom province on March 30, 2002.

"Despite the

current logging moratorium, extensive signs of recent logging were observed,"

the report stated. "These findings were backed up by a field trip from 1st - 3rd

April in which 142 freshly cut ... logs were discovered in a log rest

area."

GAT fell foul of the same breach, and GW would like to see similar

action taken against Pheapimex. Until now, the report stated, the Department of

Forestry and Wildlife has taken no action.

Buckrell added that GW would

remain in Cambodia, although "whether we are part of the [forest crimes

monitoring] project is another matter".

"If the government will start

taking action against [certain] corrupt officials at DFW and take our reports

seriously, then we are prepared to move ahead [with them]," he said.

In a

clear reference to numerous criticisms from various government officials, he

said the organization had come close to leaving on a number of

occasions.

"Our position in Cambodia is constantly under review," he

said. "We are not prepared to put up with being perceived as part of the

problem."

In related news the National Assembly is debating the draft Forestry Law,

which - in various guises - has been six years in the making. Prime Minister Hun

Sen told the CG meeting that he hoped the law would be passed "in the near

future".

The law has been pushed by donors, although forestry observers

and some in civil society have criticized it as flawed. Among other complaints,

they said it gives too much discretionary power to DFW in dealing with forest

crimes.

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