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Time-out a short one

Nearly four months after a subsidiary of tycoon Kith Meng’s Royal Group had its contract to log at the Lower Sesan II dam site suspended over allegations of illegal logging, an agreement to restart operations – made without the consent of affected communities – is close to being finalised.

Forest Administration officials said yesterday that since the ban on logging was imposed, Ministry of Agriculture officials had met “several” times with representatives of Royal Group subsidiary Ang & Associates Ltd, which has a joint contract to log in the dam site.

On October 16, the government ordered the contract suspended until the area could be demarcated, and it called on the Ministry of Agriculture to establish a commission of inquiry into the allegations. Four months later, no investigation has taken place.

“The demarcation is finished. A committee is checking all the points in the field, according to the map provided by the Ministry of Industry. The field team has not reported back yet,” Chheng Kimsun, country director of the Forestry Administration, said.

“If everything is a go, we can continue the forestry with the new demarcation,” he said, adding that he was not aware that any inquiry into the allegations had ever existed.

The probable renewal of the logging contract, which locals remain firmly opposed to, comes a day after the Post reported that construction at the controversial dam site had already started.

Ang & Associates reportedly signed a joint contract last year with local businessman Sok Vanna, the brother of Sokimex founder Sok Kong, to clear the 36,000-hectare site in preparation for the construction.

By November 13, the ministry had still not responded to the Council of Ministers’ request for in inquiry, according to a letter obtained by the Post in November.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said yesterday that he had not received an official response from the ministry to this day regarding the inquiry it was ordered to launch.

“At that time, a number of adjacent areas [to the concession] have been abused by people cutting logs and bringing them to the concession area [illegally]. Since then, I have no idea. The request by Council of Ministers was for the Agriculture Ministry to carry out the inquiry,” he said.

The Forestry Administration’s announcement comes amid reports that logging in community forests near the dam concession has been ongoing since December, despite the moratorium.

Meach Mean, coordinator of the 3S Rivers Protection Network, said that numerous credible reports had emerged from the area detailing the movement of trucks illegally transporting timber from community forests into the concession.

“Many trucks have been exporting timber from the area. Illegal logging is still going on over the last few months since the government released the letter about the logging,” he said. “During November, the logging restarted. In December, up to now, the trucks still export wood from that area. Illegal logging is still going on and the logs are being brought into the concession area.”

Representatives of the Royal Group and Ang & Associates yesterday declined to comment, saying the employees in charge of the logging contract were unavailable.

Community representatives yesterday delivered a petition to three government ministries, the Chinese embassy, the Royal Group offices and the National Assembly, calling for talks to open with the companies building the dam – the Royal Group and Chinese firm Hydrolancang International Energy.

Fut Khoeurn, 35, a representative of communities affected by the dam’s construction, said yesterday that he wanted “the company and the government to meet with the people face-to-face at the site to see the real situation”.

Despite the petitioning by the group of community representatives, which represents more than 10,000 people who will be directly affected by the dam’s construction, the Forestry Administration’s Kimsun said yesterday that all sides had agreed to accept the compensation offered by the authorities.

“The government has certified that they have provided acceptable compensation and everyone has accepted it. So I do not know about these people and where they come from,” he said, adding that he had “not yet gone to the field”.

“They ordered very clearly that relocation and compensation is acceptable for all parties.”

Mean, however, disagreed. “He’s a little bit confused. The 12 communities around the dam site, they have already accepted, but more than 5,000 families in the reservoir zone have rejected the offer.”

Seak Mekong, Sesan district’s Srekor commune chief, said: “I think it is unacceptable. The company and the government have seriously violated the rights of the ethnic people.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA

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