Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Claims that more Thais gearing up to cut



Claims that more Thais gearing up to cut

Claims that more Thais gearing up to cut

THE Thai border is alive with logging trucks and road-building machinery as - according

to one Thai timber manager - up to 40 companies gear up to receive Cambodian timber,

say British environmental lobbyists Global Witness.

The "million meter" deal struck in January and February between the Royal

Government and 17 Thai companies represents only a portion of the renewed timber

trade, the group says.

First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh was quick to explain the deal after

news of it broke earlier this month from documents obtained in Thailand.

Ranariddh said that the logs that would be exported had already been cut and much

of the timber was in Khmer Rouge-held territory.

The logs would be moved into Thailand whatever happened, Ranariddh said, and this

deal represented the only way the Royal Government could get a share of the income.

No new timber would be cut, he said, and if new logs were found they would be seized.

Thailand had agreed to cooperate with Cambodian authorities, checking on both sides

of the border, to record the quality and quantity of timber going across. All the

taxes generated would go to the Cambodian Treasury, Ranariddh said.

Some observers were happy with Ranariddh's explanations. The Government was entitled

to income from logs that had already been cut, and if the Thais were willing to cooperate,

then that cooperation should be encouraged, some observers reasoned.

Global Witness, however, called Ranariddh's responses "confused and unconvincing."

Global Witness directors Charmian Gooch, Patrick Alley and Simon Taylor investigated

the activities of Thai timber companies on the Thai side of the border in early April.

In most cases, companies were busy building logging roads into Cambodia, restoring

and extending their rest areas and gearing up for new timber.

In Kalapandha harbor - a small fishing village in the south of Trat province - the

trade in Cambodian timber from Koh Kong had doubled from Global Witness's last visit

in November to about 15,000 cubic meters of timber a week.

The import statistics were corroborated by Thai customs officers, Gooch said.

This alone was worth roughly $27m a year, according to the Global Witness directors.

There were more than 35 boats shuttling back and forth between Kalapandha and Koh

Kong.

In Maptaphut, a deep sea port near Rayong, the Chao Phyra Irrawaddy Company told

Global Witness they dealt with the Khmer Rouge and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces

(RCAF), Gooch said.

"The Thais say they know it's illegal but it's not their problem. Boats with

rough-cut timber stand next to Thai police boats in the harbor. There is no enforcement

on either side," she said.

Just north of Kalapandha is Klong Yai, a small town whose main industry consists

of at least 63 "huge" timber yards, where timber is stacked and sold. Though

Klong Yai is small, there are representative branches of five of Thailand's biggest

banks there, Alley said.

There was a large Thai military checkpoint north of Klong Yai, and the only trucks

going through were refrigerated trucks carrying prawns, and trucks carrying sawn

timber - most with tarpaulins barely covering their loads. "The trade is blatant,"

Gooch said.

In Chala Lai harbor, a small port, a 70m-long barge with earth-moving gear and heavy

forestry equipment was preparing to leave to a new site in Koh Kong, workers said.

Further north, three companies had adjacent rest areas: Santi, Tung Din Dam (TDD)

and Chantaburi Romphoroow.

TDD was winding down its operation, having sold all its wood. Santi had a new rest

area, with new buildings, living quarters and a road that linked with that of neighboring

company Chantaburi Romphoroow leading into Cambodia, Gooch said.

"Santi's road into Cambodia was visible from the main road," she said.

"Santi management told us they were expecting logs sometime after the 15th [of

April]."

The Santi company does not appear on the Prime Ministers' "million meter"

export deal.

It is significant, however, because next door to Santi is Chantaburi Romphoroow -

one of the biggest recipients in the "million meter" deal, with two permits

worth 140,000 cubic meters.

Gooch said Chantaburi Romphoroow management said they too were expecting logs by

April 15 "and that they absolutely had no felled wood in Cambodia... [The manager]

had a stack of 20 to 25 Khmer Rouge passes. He said his drivers go through RCAF,

Khmer Rouge and Thai checkpoints," she said.

Taylor said that Chantaburi Romphoroow did not have a rest area when Global Witness

last visited. "They weren't there in November, and they didn't have a logging

concession before the ban anyway. So from Ranariddh's perspective, how could they

have any felled timber in Cambodia at all?" Taylor said.

Pipat Forestry, the next along the border, had been given an export deal on the basis

it had 83,000 cubic meter of timber already cut.

Gooch said Pipat management told them that the company was cutting fresh wood now,

but were worried not to cut too much in case they couldn't move it all before the

rains came.

"We're cutting what we can manage," Gooch quoted the Pipat manager as saying.

The manager also confided that there were 40 timber companies operating on the border.

To the west, Wooden Supply Import-Export (which appears on the PMs' agreement with

more than 100,000 cubic meters) and Chao Praya Akanay - which doesn't appear on the

"million meter" list - have adjacent rest areas. Both companies deal only

with the KR.

"Both rest areas are empty now but have been extended, and were being leveled

by big earth-moving machinery," they said. "There was a big, official Thai

government sign by the side of the road saying 'Temporary rest area'."

At Pong Nam Ron, a secondary road goes westward into Cambodia to Pailin. Display

Tech - a company owned by American Larry Bridges - is one of six timber companies

to operate from there. Despite Display Tech having less than 7,000 cubic meters of

cut wood remaining in their concession, they told the Cambodian Government they wanted

to bring out 25,000 cubic meters.

On the northern border, the BLP Import-Export company have been given a 225,000 cubic

meter export deal.

"BLP are the only company in the "million meter" list that had an

existing concession to cut timber before the April 1995 ban," Taylor said. "Therefore

it is the only company that can legitimately claim it could have already felled timber

to bring out.

"None of the other companies on the PMs' list should have any timber at all

in Cambodia. They shouldn't have been in there in the first place.

"However, BLP's original timber concession was only for 200,000 cubic meters

- and they had already cut 100,000 cubic meters of that before it had 22 of its workers

killed in Nov 1994, and it hasn't been in the area since then. BLP only managed to

bring out 50,000 cubic meters of timber before it stopped working.

"But Ranariddh and Hun Sen have signed a principle agreement for BLP to take

out 225,000 cubic meters," Taylor said.

The BLP manager interviewed by Global Witness "didn't have a clue if the [felled

wood] would still have been there or not," he said.

"225,000 cubic meters is way more than what their original logging concession

was," Alley said.

Global Witness said that Ranariddh had openly admitted that Thai companies were dealing

with the Khmer Rouge "and that there was nothing [the Cambodians] could do about

it."

The Royal Government's permit would not stop money from getting to the Khmer Rouge,

but was designed only to ensure that at least some money would also get to the Cambodian

Treasury.

"The rationale is that by legitimizing these deals, Thailand could control cross-border

trade," Alley said. "But there are many other companies that do not appear

on the permit list who are gearing up to receive Cambodian timber.

"If the Thai and Cambodian authorities can't control a total ban, how can they

control what are supposed to be old logs on a case by case basis?"

If there was political will from Thailand to help Cambodia and penalize the Khmer

Rouge, then the Thais should show that by immediately closing the border, Global

Witness said.

None of the Thai timber companies should have timber in Cambodia, because none of

them - bar BLP - had ever been granted logging concessions before the April ban,

Gooch said.

Almost all the companies interviewed by Global Witness said they were cutting new

trees "to fulfill orders," Gooch said.

"How does anyone answer the charge that the Government is helping to raise money

for the enemy they are fighting? That's an obscenity," Taylor said.

"[Agriculture Minister] Tao Seng Huor said these deals are in principle only,

and that all the logs will be checked. Why then has the Thai Customs Offices got

from the Thai Foreign Ministry exactly the amounts of logs to expect, and are gearing

up to charge 1 percent tax on logs and two percent on rough processed timber?"

Gooch said.

Alley said: "Even if you accept the Royal Govern-ment's arguments that they

should receive timber revenue, then why is timber being sold at between ten to 20

percent of its world market value?

"The Government's arguments just don't stand up on any count. These are simply

illegal deals signed in secret by the two Prime Ministers, carrying on what is becoming

a Royal Government tradition, selling off Cambodia's forests at bargain basements

prices, at the expense of the Cambodian people," Gooch said.

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