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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Logging inspectors on collision course

Logging inspectors on collision course

K OH KONG - A row is brewing over Phnom Penh's insistence on placing its own

logging inspectors into Cambodia's timber-rich provinces.

One angry

provincial chief indicated the move was undermining the authority of local

provincial police.

Koh Kong deputy governor Van Kirirot said: "[Phnom

Penh] doesn't trust us to do our jobs. They think the people from the ministries

are good, but I know them to be corrupt."

Kirirot said there was no

co-operation between provincial inspectors and inspectors sent from various

government ministries in Phnom Penh.

The "city" inspectors - from the

ministries of agriculture, interior, defense and environment - have been sent to

Ratanakiri, Kratie, Stung Treng, Pursat and Kompong Som, as well as Koh

Kong.

There have also been allegations that illegally cut logs have been

exported out of Koh Kong province under areas specifically controlled by "city"

inspectors. These claims come from policemen who have witnessed instances

first-hand.

Kirirot said: "If they let us do it, I promise not to allow

any illegal exports of logs... I would leave my position."

"I suggested

that they should take out the central government's inspectors or put them under

our supervision. We should have one power, not two."

"They should not use

their mandate to divide this province into different sections to

control."

He said his local inspectors worked for a few days after the

government's April 30 ban, but were quickly replaced by ministerial

inspectors.

While the bickering about each group's authority and areas of

control continued, "some people were getting rich very quickly" from the

continued export of logs, he said.

"We are finding it very difficult to

work here. We have many different groups and they all have guns," Kirirot said.

"They are not listening to each other or attempting to find a good

solution to the problem; and nobody will accept responsibility."

"Phnom

Penh only sees the negative things such as provincial soldiers selling the

timber, but that is wrong," he said.

"You see, sometimes (our soldiers)

do not have enough money to buy food or medicine. We had (provincial) approval

to sell certain amounts of timber to buy supplies," Kirirot said.

"Of

course, some military officers are corrupt."

He told the Post that in

April a major in the provincial military was sacked when he was found to be

illegally selling permission for logging exports.

Kirirot said that his

provincial staff were being blamed for the illegal exports of timber.

Two

Cambodian military boats, with 60 armed men, are patrolling Koh Kong coastal

waters, but military chiefs say many island entrances are difficult to

police.

However, the Post talked to RCAF soldiers who confirmed that Thai

boats loaded with logs had sailed passed police positions.

Van Rith, a

government soldier, claimed to have seen thousands of cubic meters of timber

being loaded onto a Thai ferry at Kbal Chai on April 5, about 70 kms northwest

of Koh Kong town, and transported to the sea.

He said that the area was

alternatively controlled by government soldiers and Khmer Rouge. Thai companies

also protected their own operations in Koh Kong with guns, he said.

"I

don't know what company has been dealing with the Cambodian military sea-guards

but I know they were dealing with illegal logs, yet they were allowed to

leave."

Yon Min, Major of Koh Kong provincial military rejected the

allegations.

Min said that it was very difficult for his military to

operate along the Koh Kong coast which had many islands and difficult entrances,

especially the Thmar Baing, Sre Ambel and Botom Sakor districts.

"Some

people accuse that we still allow timber exports. It is not true."

"The

(logging) company owners know very well that our government will not allow

logging exports any more."

Min said small boats, pretending to be fishing

craft, were taking between 30 and 40 cubic meters of timber out of Cambodia at a

time. "It is a small quantity, but if many people are dealing it could be a huge

problem," he said.

According to Koh Kong agriculture department director

Hun Bun, up to 14,000 hectares of the province's forest was included in the

government's "master plan" of logging concessions.

A report said that the

province had exported 113,000 cubic meters in 1994; and in just four months to

April 30 it had exported 83,000 cubic meters. Villagers told the Post that

timber trucks had been operating 24-hours a day up till the April 30

deadline.

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