Cambodia's controversial logging baron has hit out at claims that his company is currently involved in the deforestation of a national park in Ratanakkiri province, vowing to take legal action against anyone falsely using his name to fell timber in the area.
In a statement this week, Try Pheap said allegations that his company, Try Pheap Import Export Co Ltd, was logging in the remote northeast’s Virachey National Park – one of the largest protected areas in the country – were false.
“Try Pheap Import Export Co. Ltd. would like to inform the public that the company does not log and destroy forest illegally in Virachey National Park,” it says.
In 2011, the company was granted two 70-year economic land concessions [ELCs] in the area covering 18,855 hectares. But, according to the statement, it handed them back to the Ministry of Environment in October 2013 because the rocky soil was deemed unsuitable for growing rubber trees.
A press release the following month by the Council of Ministers confirmed that the government was again in possession of the land, it says, adding that since then, it has conducted no activities in the area.
“Try Pheap Import Export would like to reject all allegations made by some politicians, NGOs and the media claiming that the company is involved in deforestation in Virachey National Park. The company also urges the authorities to take legal action against anyone using the company’s name for any illegal offences.”
The statement followed a letter on Wednesday from more than 20 opposition lawmakers, which called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to stop Pheap and another tycoon, An Marady, from logging in the park.
Sao Sophea, a spokesperson at the Ministry of Environment, dismissed the allegation, supporting the company’s claim it had ceded the concessions.
“The reason the company has given them back to the government is that when the company studied in-depth, the land was not favourable” for development, he said.
“If they say Try Pheap is logging in the area, it is not true, but if it is related to An Marady, we will go down to inspect for sure,” he added.
However, Ouch Leng, director of the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force, said it was clear people working for Pheap had continued felling precious timber there since 2013.
“If they are not logging, where have the [legally protected] thnong trees gone?” he asked.
Leng said that local residents regularly report seeing the company logging in the area, adding that the government continues to issue Pheap with unofficial licenses.
“Try Pheap [Import Export] is run by the government with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s protection”, he said.