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Environment Minister Say Samal speaks during a meeting yesterday about the ministry’s investigation into wood depots.
Environment Minister Say Samal speaks during a meeting yesterday about the ministry’s investigation into wood depots. Pha Lina

Ministry eyeing wood stockpiles, says Samal

Amid the latest campaign to crack down on deforestation, Environment Minister Say Samal said yesterday a number of wood depots are being investigated for links to illegal logging, with forestry monitors saying they would wait to see what actions are taken.

During a meeting at the Club of Cambodian Journalists to discuss environmental protection, Samal said that illegal loggers were running many of the country’s timber depots, and the licences of suspected depots would have to be reviewed as a result.

“Some wood depots are purchasing illegal timber, so we will review their licences and check if they bought wood from areas with legal economic land concessions,” Samal said, adding that the ministry would file lawsuits against any found to be flouting the law.

He declined to identify which depots were under investigation, or where they were located, but said any timber leaving Kampong Speu, Kampong Chhnang, Pursat and Koh Kong provinces was illegal, because no companies had permission to clear forest there.

Samal also said that two businessmen long linked to the illegal logging industry, Try Pheap and Lim Bunna, were no longer working in the timber industry. Pheap was previously granted exclusive rights to buy government-seized, illegally-felled wood at below market prices. An Environment Ministry spokesman refused to comment on whether Pheap still held such rights.

Lim Bunna and his business partner Soeng Sam Ol, meanwhile, have been linked to timber warehouses raided by the government earlier this year.

Ernst Jurgensen, country representative for NGO Danmission’s environmental projects, welcomed the investigations, but noted the government has often failed to follow tough statements with serious action.

“It is very positive that the Cambodian government takes actions on this, but a lot of deforestation could have been avoided if actions had been taken on this years ago,” Jurgensen said. “There has been too much talk and too little action.”

Goldman Prize-winning environmental activist Ouch Leng added that it would be easy for the government to put the brakes on illegal logging, but that vested interests prevent it from doing so.

“Wood depots and sawmills are located in almost all of the protected [forest] areas, so all they have to do is close them,” Leng said. “But some sawmill owners are related to government officials.”

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