More than 500 logs of luxury-grade timber had been seized from a Ratanakkiri province economic land concession, forestry administration officials said yesterday, though it appears the concessionaire is not under investigation.
Phan Phoeun, deputy chief of the provincial Forestry Administration, said forestry officials had found approximately 80 cubic metres of luxury-grade thnong, beng and neang nuon wood on land belonging to Horng An O Ya Dav Co, Ltd late last week.
“We confiscated the logs and placed them in a safe place before we took the logs to our office. We had made a report about this already,” he said.
According to Phoeun, officials investigated the area after they had received an anonymous tip.
“The logs were found inside the company’s land, so it is not the villagers who cut it,” he said, adding that he had questioned company officials, who said they knew nothing about the logging.
Phoeun said that although there was no investigation in place, the administration had called for the owners of the logs to step forward. If no one took responsibility within a month, he said, then the case would be sent to the prosecutor for investigation.
Talav commune’s police chief, Kim Savong, meanwhile, said he knew nothing of the case, while Andong Meas’s district governor, Norng Darith, declined to comment.
In 2011, the Vietnamese company was granted a 9,000-hectare concession to build a rubber plantation, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. Contact information for the company’s director could not be immediately found.
Rights group Adhoc said it was investigating both the company and the circumstances surrounding the seizure and slammed authorities for skirting past the company’s likely complicity.
Adhoc provincial investigator Chhay Thy said company officials claimed the logs had been felled by villagers without its knowledge, an assertion he found laughable.
“It is a huge amount of illegal timber, and simple citizens are not able to commit [this type of logging]. Only the rich, powerful and traders manage to do it,” he said, adding that the rights group believes they can gather enough evidence to file the case at court.
“The logs were ready to be illegally transported to Vietnamese, but the officials took action in time,” he continued.
Locals, pointed out Thy, were not even allowed onto the company’s land – an area blocked off by numerous checkpoints.
In February, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a directive aimed at cracking down on the logging, smuggling and sale of luxury rosewood. While the directive was commended by conservationists for its broad reach, many lamented that it had come at a time when rosewood reserves have all but disappeared. And while a number of large-scale seizures have been made since, no arrests – or even fines – have been reported.
Senior Adhoc investigator Chan Soveth said that without punishment, such directives would remain toothless.
“We see that almost every house has furniture made from luxury timber. In addition, timber continues to be sold abroad. The authorities and police are not effective in combating the case,” he said, adding that NGO activists who attempt to combat offenders are often threatened.
“The forest in Cambodia will disappear soon if the government just releases an order without effective action.”