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‘Defamed’ Korean company denies Prey Lang illegal logging claims

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Timber being transported at Prey Lang in Siem Bok district, Stung Treng province on Friday. Locals have accused Korean company Think Biotech of illegal logging. Supplied

‘Defamed’ Korean company denies Prey Lang illegal logging claims

The Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) has alleged that Korean-owned Think Biotech (Cambodia) Co Ltd is illegally harvesting timber from resin trees in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary. But a company representative refuted the claim and accused the community of making up rumours to defame it.

Kheng Kho, a PLCN representative in Stung Treng province, told The Post on Monday that Think Biotech has been logging the villagers’ resin trees in O’Lang village and at other locations in the wildlife sanctuary.

He said on Thursday and Friday, more than 10 locals and environmental rangers in Siem Bok district patrolled the forest and witnessed the transportation of 39 resin trees from Prey Lang.

“Resin trees are the source of our income in Prey Lang, but the company has secretly logged the trees and transported them without remorse."

“Our villagers and environmental rangers witnessed the timber being transported, but the company’s representative, Sok Chea, denied it and claimed they were harvesting the timber inside company land,” Kho said.

He said his group did not attempt to stop the timber being transported but instead took photographs and used a GPS Map app to record the scene as evidence.

The rangers will use the evidence to make a report about the crimes for their superiors to take further action, he said.

A Prey Lang representative from Kratie province, Phay Bunleang, said Think Biotech has been logging the community’s resin trees extensively since 2012 after its 34,000ha reforestation project in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces was approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Bunleang spoke to The Post after returning from a three-day patrol with rangers from Friday to Sunday in Sambor district’s Vattanak commune.

He said that during their patrol, they witnessed Think Biotech tractors transporting timber from Prey Lang forest in Stung Treng to the company’s land.

“The tractors loaded timber from Prey Lang, but its representative denied the matter and warned our activists not to interfere with their business,” he said.

Bunleang claimed that the reforestation agreement between Think Biotech and the government required the company to fell resin trees on community land, but the company denied it.

“The company pushes its workers to incite the villagers to sell the resin trees to them, telling them that if the locals do not sell them, they will log the trees anyway. Resin trees are the main source of income for the villagers,” he said.

Chea refuted the allegation, saying that the company respects the reforestation policy agreed with the government to ensure forest sustainability.

“Our company harvests the forest in areas defined by the government. We pay taxes to the state in accordance with the amount of timber and the species we harvest,” he said.

However, he acknowledged that the company buys resin trees from the villagers if they agree to sell them.

“But we do not threaten them to sell it to the company like they have accused us of doing. I think their accusations seem intended to defame the company,” Chea said.

He called for the villagers to make themselves clear of protected forestland boundaries and the area that falls under the reforestation agreement, in order to avoid any confusion that might hinder the company’s activities.

Kratie provincial environment department director Duong Chhay Savuth said the timber was logged within the limits of the reforestation project and that the company had not interfered with the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary.

“We have visited the site already and it is not inside the wildlife sanctuary,” he said, adding that whether the company is permitted to harvest the forest or not is under the remit of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, not the Ministry of Environment.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries spokesman Srey Vuthy said according to the agreement, the company is permitted to harvest the forest within the project’s boundaries as defined in the master plan.

The company must pay tax to the state in accordance with the amount of timber and the species felled, he said.

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