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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Leaks in the Logging Ban

Leaks in the Logging Ban

Cambodia's forestry reserves remain under threat over one month after the imposition

of the Supreme National Council's (SNC) moratorium on the export of logs.

Although the number of recorded violations has decreased since the first week of

the ban's imposition on Dec. 31, U.N. officials admitted at a press conference on

Feb. 3 that they were not convinced that all breaches were being recorded.

The U.N. said they were only able to record those in areas where they had access.

Because of this, there is no U.N. monitoring of the Khmer Rouge zones along the Thai


Michael Ward, Deputy Director of Rehabilitation and Economic Affairs for the United

Nations Transitional Authority for Cambodia (UNTAC), acknowledged that UNTAC was

relying on the goodwill of Thailand to ensure the enforcement of the ban in these


The Thais have set up 19 checkpoints along the border opposite Khmer Rouge zones.

But so far they have not reported a single violation of the ban. In response to questions

regarding the continued night-time smuggling of logs, Ward said that the U.N. is

not in a position to comment as they have no capacity to monitor trafficing from

National Army of Democratic Kampuchea (NADK) zones.

"All we have is a letter from the [Thai] Interior Minister that he will be consulting

with what he calls his organs of state in order to ensure that the requirements of

the U.N. Security Council Resolution would be observed to all extent possible by

the government," Ward stated.

At the Feb. 5 press conference, U.N. Border Control Officer Robert Hull showed a

video shot from a U.N. helicopter of logs being illegally smuggled out to sea at

Sre Ampil destined for Koh Kong where U.N. officials have reported major smuggling

to Thailand. Others logs were shown stacked ready to be ferried across the border

into Laos and there was evidence of more waiting to be transported to Vietnam.

The U.N. video ignored the Thai border, the scene of the majority of recorded violations

and an area where there has been extensive environmental damage caused by logging.

It only highlighted the eco-devastion along the Laotian and Vietnamese border caused

by the slash-and-burn techniques to clear undergrowth to make way for the loggers.

With this method, Hull said, regrowth is impossible.

"In Mondulkiri there is massive destruction going on; there's hundreds of these

fires and thousands of acres involved in each one," Hull said, likening the

scene to the Kuwait oil fires without the black smoke.

He added that he did not think that logging and illegal export on such a scale could

go on without the complicity of the local administrative structures.

However, he played down these violations by saying that all new laws take time to

take effect.

"It takes time for the word to get out. People have money invested in equipment

and on the high seas. They will try to minimize their losses and take risks,"

Hull said. Ward, however, saw greater problems. He pointed out that it was up to

the administrations of the factions to prosecute violators.

"The difficulty is that one of the factions is not fully implementing the requirements

of the SNC resolution and we have some problems with another faction that did not

even sign the declaration."

Until the NADK and the State of Cambodia (SOC) see that it is in their own interests

to preserve the natural wealth of the country, the U.N. official does not feel there

will be a great deal of success "in closing the loopholes that already exist."

Apart from outright illegal smuggling, loggers were finding new ways to get around

the ban that only prohibits the export of unprocessed round logs. One such way was

to cut the bark off logs, creating large square logs which still fall under the legal

category of sawn wood. Another way, and one that presents the biggest threat, is

to simply start more sawmills inside Cambodia. And U.N. officials acknowledged that

new sawmills have been springing up throughout the country.

"It's clear to us that the SOC administration wants to export 200,000 tons,

which is a lot," Ward said. He explained that 400,000 tons of logs are required

to produce 200,000 tons of sawn timber.

A ton, he said, was roughly equivalent to a cubic meter. A Untied Nations Development

Project (UNDP) report compiled in 1992 stated that Cambodia's sustainable yield is

250,000 cubic meters of export-quality logs. SOC's desired output for 1993 alone

exceeds this.

In addition, Ward stated that one could only really talk about sustainable yield

when there is a "coherent policy of forest regeneration in place. No such policy

exists," he stated.

And there's only the Thai army, widely believed to have vested interests in the timber

trade, to prevent the Khmer Rouge from exporting the estimated 200,000 cubic meters

they exported last year.

Ward stated that the next ban would have to control the capacity for exporting sawn


Until such controls are introduced, it would appear that the one achievement of the

moratorium will be the generation of more local employment in sawmills while the

forest reserves dwindle at the same alarming rate.

"I personally am not happy with that (outcome)," Ward said.

"What UNTAC needs to say here is how serious that environmental degradation

is. The reasons the Thais imposed their ban in November 1988 is because you don't

have a hold on the land when you have a flash flood or heavy monsoon rain. All the

soil goes away and in the case of Thailand, 2,000 people died in Hat Yai in 1988,"

Ward said, adding "when that happens in Cambodia maybe people will realize that

this is more than just simply a money grabbing exercise."



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