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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Same old explanations

Same old explanations

The Editor,

We note with regret that HE Tao Seng Huor appears to have taken offence ("Chavalit

and timber - PP Post, Oct 18-30) to articles which sought to clarify inconsistencies

between RGC forestry regulations and practices.

Global Witness has consistently provided information and evidence of illegal practices

both along the Thai/Cambodian border, and in Cambodia itself, to the RGC - including

to HE Tao Seng Huor. Tao Seng Huor, in his capacity as RGC Minister of Agriculture,

should be very concerned about the nature of this information, as it clearly shows

the continuing destruction of Cambodia's environment. We would hope that, rather

than feeling unjustly criticized, he would welcome the continuing supply of information.

In this most recent letter, Tao Seng Huor reiterates comments made in his previous

letter, published in the Post, April 19-May 2 1996 under the banner "Timber

trade to be strictly controlled: Tao Seng Huor". Then, as now, his comments

do not stand up to analysis. It is therefore necessary to repeat many of those points

which have been made clear in our previous correspondence with the Post. These are

as follows:

The Chavalit connection: It is interesting to note the denial of any role played

by General Chavalit in negotiations of the "Million Meter" deal. Tao Seng

Huor himself states that he met with General Chavalit on January 18, 1996. However,

what he omits to say, but which is made clear in the Co-Prime Ministers' letter [from

the "Million Meter" deal] to Thai Prime Minister Banharn of January 29th,

1996, is that this meeting was also concerned with the "...control and bidding

of the remaining logging..." In other words, discussions must also have focused

on which companies were to be awarded logs for export to Thailand.

The "Million Meter" deal, and its current status: In Tao Seng Huor's

previous letter and again now, there is much emphasis on the Co-Prime Ministers having

only agreed "in principle" to company requests for logs, supposedly cut

before April 30th, 1995. However, it should not be forgotten that Thai Customs had

received a fax from the Thai Interior Ministry dated 24th March, 1996, which clearly

stated that Thai Customs should expect volumes of timber to be imported from Cambodia

by named companies ("the Million Meter" deal companies), in order that

they could exact the appropriate tax levy on these imports. It is therefore very

clear that as far as the Thais were concerned, the companies named in the million

meter deal had obtained, not a deal "in principle", but a deal in fact.

Global Witness investigations during and subsequent to the publication of the "Million

Meter" deal clearly showed that most of the companies on the deal did not, in

fact, have any stockpiles of "already cut timber"; instead companies stated

that they had moved large numbers of workers, their equipment and fuel across the

border to cut fresh timber, all with the facilitation of the Thai military. In reality,

the "Million Meter" deal companies had received de facto new concessions

to cut fresh timber.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of this whole arrangement is the fact

that these negotiations were conducted in secrecy, with no reference to the National

Assembly. In fact, so secret were these deals that they also did not feature on the

official National Budget; in effect, leaving out a revenue to the State (at world

market prices) far in excess of the entire current annual tax base for Cambodia.

It is for these reasons that the IMF, the World Bank and the entire donor community

demanded dramatic improvements in Cambodia's forest policy, in the run-up to and

during the Consultative Group meeting in Tokyo.

Reiteration of the same old explanations, already shown to be inadequate, strongly

suggests that despite all the pressure, senior members of the RGC remain intent in

deceiving the international community, at the expense of Cambodia's people and her

environment. This is borne out by the absolute failure of the Steering Committee

and its Secretariat to even meet, let alone formulate policies of any value, now

four months after its inception, even though its members are "responsible for

implementing this sub-decree so that it is effective from the date of signature".

Further examples: Why has HE Tao Seng Huor made no mention of the deal for 28,000

cubic meters to the Maka Centre Company, signed by the co-Prime Ministers on September

4, 1996, two months after the 30 June, 1996 cut-off date as stipulated in the 19

June 1996 joint communique? The Maka Centre Company told us at the beginning of September

that they only had 10,000 cubic meters of logs

- all of which have been cut since the May 1, 1995 timber export ban. If any of

this volume is exported, it would be in breach of Cambodian regulations. If they

are able to export their entire new allowance, they will have to cut a further 18,000

cubic meters of fresh logs. Of course, it should not be forgotten that they are operating

in an "unsecured" area.

In addition, we note that Tao Seng Huor has made no response to other comments in

the Post reports about which he was complaining. For example, why the silence about

large RCAF-facilitated log movements through the middle of Phnom Penh at night? Why

the silence about the role of RCAF units and the Pipimex and Iper Resources companies

in the fresh cutting of a pile of logs some 15km long, on the east bank of the Mekong

south of Stung Treng? Why the silence about large volumes of logs moving into Laos,

and their subsequent further export to Thailand? Why the continuing silence about

exports from Koh Kong to Kalapandha? Why, despite numerous requests from members

of the National Assembly (as is their right under the Constitution) has the Royal

Government not released details of all timber concessions and deals? One could go

on.

To conclude, Global Witness will continue to provide all and any information necessary

for use by the Royal Government of Cambodia to implement the rules which it has set

itself. However, we are a long way from seeing their effective implementation, especially

when they continue to be undermined by breaches such as the Maka Centre Company deal.

We would welcome some considered explanations from HE Tao Seng Huor as to the points

we have raised in this letter. We look forward to hearing from him.

- Global Witness, London.

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