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.
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
The group traveled the entire length of the border in
January gathering evidence of what it said was a booming timber trade.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
The government itself was still issuing logging concessions,
such as its huge deal with the Malaysian Samling Corporation signed last
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
"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
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