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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Govt and KR logging partners, says NGO

Govt and KR logging partners, says NGO

T he Cambodian government and the Khmer Rouge often work in tandem, along with

unscrupulous foreign corporations, to benefit from the plunder of Cambodia's

forests, according to a British environmental group.

Global Witness

issued a report this month saying that highly-publicized attempts to close the

Cambodian-Thai border to illicit trade were at best inadequate and at worst

"purely cosmetic".

The group traveled the entire length of the border in

January gathering evidence of what it said was a booming timber trade.

It

alleged that Thai government officials were openly supporting the KR by allowing

them to profit from it, and failing to cooperate with Cambodia's logging

ban.

It said the Cambodian government and military, meanwhile, issued

concessions to Thai companies to log trees in KR-occupied territory-effectively

helping to fund the guerrillas, who were also paid by the loggers.

"The

owners of a concession in an area under KR influence or control must not only

pay the [Cambodian government] but also negotiate rights of passage with the

KR," the report said.

"The Royal Government of Cambodia is fully aware

that every concession sold in such an area will directly benefit the

KR."

Global Witness representatives, posing as potential business

partners, met with Thai and American businessmen who admitted to paying off

Cambodian and Thai soldiers, and the Khmer Rouge.

"I pay both sides," exclaimed Pairath Charoenphol, managing director of

Display Tech (Thailand) in the secretly-filmed meeting.

He said he held three logging concessions-including one near the KR

stronghold of Anlong Veng-and did deals with the KR and "the generals" in the

Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF).

Also present at the meeting were

American Larry Bridges Sr., the US-affiliated Display Tech's president, and

their US importer, Thomas Haylett.

"Well be coming here as long and we

can get the wood, you know, they could close everything down tomorrow," Haylett

said during the meeting.

But the three said that, providing the situation

remained the same, they could get as much wood as was wanted from

Cambodia.

Global Witness, on their tour of the border, visited a Display

Tech timber depot at Pong Nam Ron on the Thai border, connected by dirt road to

the KR-occupied Pailin area.

There they found about 20,000 cubic meters

of Maka, a high-grade hard wood, including a one-third section of a huge tree

believed to be hundreds of years old.

Local people and timber workers had

hung garlands on the tree to respect its ancient spirits.

The same day

that Global Witness visited the depot, a Thai Ministry of Agriculture official

arrived to discuss buying the entire section to display it.

A Display

Tech guard said that, while their Cambodian logging deal was made with the

government, day-to-day operations depended on the cooperation of the KR "as they

live in the forest".

Global Witness' report said other yards, described

as "rest areas" by timber companies, were found further south along the border,

near Cambodia's timber-rich Koh Kong province.

Thousands of felled trees

were in the yards, which were found in both Thai and Cambodian territory. Two of

the biggest each held between 5000-10,000 logs, according to film and

photographs of them, and the numbering on them.

Among the Thai businesses with timber depots were the Wooden Supply Import

Export, Suan Pha, Chao Phraya Chai, Kor Nanthamanop and Pa Mai Pipat

companies.

At the Suan Pha Co's yard on Thai soil, log trucks drivers said as many as

100 trucks laden with logs crossed the Cambodian border to there each

day.

There was a Thai marine base less than a kilometer from the road

which led from Cambodian terrirory to the timber depot, but the military

apparently did nothing to try to close such roads.

Log truckers said

they had to pass through both Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and KR

checkpoints in Koh Kong before crossing into Thailand.

The local

population talked openly of cooperation between the RCAF and the KR, to the

extent that they called the RCAF "the Khmer White".

Global Witness said that, by loggers' own admission, Cambodia's successive

bans on the fresh cutting of logs since 1992 has been commonly

breached.

The government itself was still issuing logging concessions,

such as its huge deal with the Malaysian Samling Corporation signed last

August.

The deal granted Samling 800,000 hectares-equivalent to 12 per

cent of Cambodia's remaining forest cover-to log.

It allowed for a total levy of $100,000 for reforestation, barely enough,

according to a Phnom Penh forestry expert, to cover the cost of 2500 hectares at

current seed prices.

Global Witness said that such unsustainable logging had dramatic impacts on

Cambodia's environment and people, causing soil erosion which worsened floods

and droughts.

"The more forest that is lost, the more serious the problem

becomes; the longer the problem lasts, the more difficult it will be engineer a

solution."

Ultimately, it said, Cambodia risked having no more forests.

Around 74 per cent of Cambodia's land used to be covered by forests, compared

to 30-35 per cent today, and "given current rates of destruction, it is likely

that the remaining forests will be completely destroyed before the end of the

century".

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