ILLEGAL loggers have managed to pillage more than 20,000
cubic meters of timber from Kampong Thom under the guise
of making road travel safe.
Acting director of Nature Conservation and Protection
department at the Environment Ministry, Chay Samith said
that Hun Sen had signed an agreement to allow trees 100
meters each side of the road between Kampong Thom and
Preah Vihear to be cleared, a total of about 2000 cubic
He said the clearance would deny cover to bandits who
waited to ambush passers-by.
However Samith said that instead loggers had cut down
trees in a forest reserve 7 kms from the road. They then
brought the trees to the road side and claimed they had
been cut down in the area.
Samith said the scam came to light when his staff
reported to him that 20,000 cubic meters had been
harvested and taken out of the area, but that trees by
the side of the road were still standing.
He said at least 10,000 cubic meters of the harvest were
still sitting at the road side but the ministry is
refusing to let it be moved.
Samith blames rich timber buyers for the plan, saying
they had approached local villagers and promised to pay
them if they cut the trees in the reserve and dump them
in their concession area.
Chap Mil, deputy chief of Stung district, said that trees
in the reserve area were not meant to be cut down but
they tolerated a small amount of timber being used by
villagers who needed money to support themselves through
He said they had to let the villagers make money from
timber because they were so short of food. But, he added,
it would only be a short-term solution.
"We allow them to cut the timber at the moment but
when the rice is harvested we will stop them," he
One of the villagers who asked not to be named said it
was precisely that loop hole that the professional timber
traders were exploiting.
He said that villagers went into the reserve to cut
timber saying it was for their own use, such as for
building a house, but then they sold it to the timber
However, he added, even though they had permission to cut
trees they still had to pay bribes to the local
authorities, police and soldiers in the area.
"I have to pay them [local authorities] 30,000 to
40,000 riel, and more to the soldiers or the militia on
He said even if they had written permission to cut trees
it made no difference to the soldiers. "If we show
them the paper they say `do we eat paper?' and sometimes
they fire their guns to threaten me and other
A military officer based in Popok commune said that it
was difficult to work out who was carrying timber for
themselves and who was doing it for traders since there
were about 80 to 100 buffalo carts hauling timber in his
"We cannot prevent them because they are so poor. If
we respected the rules we would have to kill them,"
However one of the local timber cutters, Sok Chea, who
lives in Sla village, said that sometimes the soldiers or
militia had arrested him and confiscated both his timber
and his money.
"If I had another job I would not go to cut the
timber because they [soldiers] have guns and we do not,
so we cannot argue with them have to pay what they
"I do this job because I have no choice."
He said that it took at least a month to fell the tree
and then turn it into planks. For that he receives 40,000
riel but half of that went in bribes.
One soldier spoken to by the Post denied there was any
corruption. Instead he said they helped the villagers,
giving them rice and protecting them from robbers.
However not all the military deny there is rampant
corruption in the area.
And they're upset about it.
One colonel said there was a double loss to the country
by the scam. Not only were the trees cut but there was no
revenue for the State from them.
He complained that the loggers were just too greedy. They
paid for 2,000 cubic meters but not the other 8,000 or
more cubic meters.
"I think that if they paid the National Budget for
8,000 cubic meters and kept 2,000 cubic meters, the
budget would be good and the salaries of the soldiers and
public servants would not be late and the economy would
not be in crisis.
"I think that if there was only a quarter of the
corruption that there is in Cambodia it would not be bad
and the budget would be a lot.
"The country would develop, but instead we have
Meanwhile Chap Mil is optimistic for the future.
He believed that moving control of the forests to local
authorities was leading to better control and less
"anarchy" in the industry.
"Now the government has put the forests under the
district we can more easily control it and if we find out
they [soldiers or police] are cutting the timber we will
report them directly to their bosses," he said.