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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Old logs reopen old wounds for conservationists

Old logs reopen old wounds for conservationists

They may be old logs, but plans to move 3,518 pieces of timber cut before the 2002

logging ban have sparked new protests from logging watchdog Global Witness.

Responding to media reports that the World Bank was backing a Forestry Administration

proposal to transport logs stockpiled by commercial concessionaires Samraong and

Colemix, Global Witness urged the World Bank to reconsider.

"The World Bank would be better advised to demand Samraong and Colemix's prosecution,

rather than handing them the opportunity to make a profit from their illegal activities,"

wrote Global Witness campaigner Mike Davis, in a July 22 letter to the World Bank.

However, the WB's Kimberly Versak, external affairs officer, issued a clarifying

statement on July 29:

"In late April the Government of Cambodia sought comments - not approval - from

the donor community on a decision that they had apparently already taken to allow

transport of 3,518 inventoried pieces under the supervision of the forest crime monitor,

SGS.

"We feel our responsibility is to provide clear indications of the understood

risks and, in the event Government decides to go forward with this, clearly indicate

the measures to be taken to mitigate these risks to the maximum extent possible.

"This view was communicated officially to Government in May by the Working Group

[on Natural Resources Management]."

Forestry and the concessionaire system have been key, and consistently controversial,

parts of WB work in Cambodia.

A previous WB-assisted attempt to move logs from Colemix's rubber plantation in Tumring

commune, Kampong Thom, was knocked back last year by the government on the basis

that it was "incorrectly negative on the manner of the Tumring development,"

said Versak.

The recent push to cash in on the stockpiled timber was initiated by the concessionaires,

said Robert Tennent, Forestry Project Manager for SGS on July 29. "They want

either the wood or their money back," he said.

The Forestry Administration (FA) provided SGS with a list of logs totalling approximately

12,000 cubic meters, mostly from Colexim's Tumring rubber plantation, as well as

their stamp codes, location and destination.

"There was some discussion that if this works they might move some of the confiscated

timber," said Tennent, referring to what he described as "tremendous stores

of timber" seized by the FA and now slowly rotting at sites across the country.

The idea of transporting "old logs" is a particularly emotive one for conservationists,

who say it has been used as a cover for much of the illegal logging in the past decade.

"In 1998, a study that the World Bank commissioned found that 'old log collection'

accounted for more than 90 per cent of (illegal) harvesting in Cambodia," Davis

wrote.

As the WB defended its position on transporting logs and affirmed a committment to

working with NGOs, Global Witness released a statement attacking the international

aid bank, saying it is desperate to justify industrial logging in Cambodia and is

holding back crucial reforms to the sector.

Global Witness pointed to the recent recommendation from the Independent Forest Sector

Review (funded by donors including the World Bank) that the moratorium on logging

be upheld, the concessionaire system be scrapped and a community management scheme

developed.

"[The World Bank] is perpetuating a system that is dedicated to rent capture

by corrupt officials and their business associates, and which offers no accountability

to forest users and inhabitants," said the July 29 Global Witness statement.

"It is advocating another quarter century of mismanagement which Cambodia's

forests will not survive."

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