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Illegal loggers running wild in Cardamoms: CI

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7-logging-Use.jpg

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Men use oxcarts to transport illegally logged timber within the Cardamom mountains in Pursat province.

Illegal loggers are using oxcarts, motorbikes and cars to transport high-quality hardwoods from the Cardamom mountains, one of the largest remaining wilderness areas in mainland Asia, an environmental watchdog said.

Conservation International (CI) country director Seng Bunra told the Post on March 27 that illegal logging of timber from the jungle on such a small scale as oxcarts has become a serious threat to certain rare wood species as well as wildlife in the protected forests of the Cardamom.

He said CI has given financial support to about 60 rangers, some from the military police and others from the Forest Administration (FA) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, to patrol deep into the Cardamoms in order to control illegal forestry activities.

Bunra said rampant illegal logging of the species known in Khmer as Kror Nhuong may have decreased in the first three months of 2008 but parts of Kampong Speu and Pursat province, where smugglers are notoriously difficult to track, are still seeing high levels of illegal logging and wildlife smuggling.

Last year, 100 cubic meters of “luxury wood species 1 and 2” were confiscated from illegal loggers along with their modes of transport, which included a Toyota Camry and oxcarts, Bunra said.

In another instance, Bunra said smugglers carried high-quality timber from the jungle in oxcarts and motorbikes before loading it into cars.

He said the timber is usually sold at a market in Phnom Penh and then exported to Vietnam and possibly to China.

Bunra said CI and the Forestry Administration last year cracked down on illegal logging in Pursat and Kampong Speu, where they confiscated nearly 200 cubic meters of luxury wood and about 100 oxcarts and buffalo.

In its annual report for 2007, CI said rangers also confiscated 2,363 cable and nylon snares used to trap wildlife within protected forest areas in Pursat. They confiscated 3,199 cables and snares in Kampong Speu.

The Cardamom mountains are located in Kampong Speu, Pursat and Koh Kong provinces. In 2002, Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed to the formation of the Central Cardamom Protected Forest, an area covering 401,313 hectares of forest, mountains and wetlands.

Though there were increasing activities of illegal logging and wildlife trade in 2007, Bunra said the CI and FA’s rangers worked hard to keep the illegal issues under control.

Bunra said demand of firewood and charcoal in the market is also threatening wildlife and the protected forest.

“We are concerned the trend towards illegal forestry will encroach on areas of protected forest,” he said.

Another concern, according to CI, is lack of participation from authorities on the commune, district and provincial levels.

“The local authorities were always playing tricks with us,”  Bunra said. “They told us to go to the left to take action against illegal loggers, but at the same time they told the convoy of illegal wood transportation to escape to the right.”

He claimed that traders backing illegal logging activities set up their networks by paying local authorities to evade the network of guards.

He added, however, that efforts have been successful at times in Koh Kong province, where tip-offs from villagers led to arrests.

“We found much of the illegal equipment they used for logging and catching wildlife, such as snares,” Bunra said.

Top Chansereyvuth, chief prosecutor of Pursat province, played down the extent of the problem.

“Though there are some loopholes in law enforcement, we are almost to the point of keeping the issues of forestry crime under control,” he said.

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