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Environmentalists: Three to five years of logs left

Environmentalists: Three to five years of logs left

C AMBODIA is heading toward deforestation of all salable timber within three to five

years unless the industry can be properly regulated, the British environmental group

Global Witness has declared.

"The logging situation is out of control," Global Witness investigator

Patrick Alley said at a Dec 15 press conference.

The International Monetary Fund cited timber concerns when it closed its office in

Cambodia earlier this year. The IMF suspended its budgetary support programs here

in 1996 when the international lender determined the Royal Government had not taken

concrete measures to halt illegal logging and channel timber revenue into the budget.

Uncontrolled logging appears to have intensified since the political turmoil in July

when Second Prime Minister Hun Sen ousted Prince Norodom Rana-riddh as First Prime

Minister.

"The situation had improved up until July and it has deteriorated since,"

Alley said. "Talking to the concessionaires, the impression is that it is a

complete free-for-all right now. There seems to be no control."

"The concessionaires are saying that the forests will be logged out within three

to five years," he added. "Theoretically, that will leave the national

parks, but they are also being logged."

The export of whole logs was banned at the end of last year, but Global Witness has

alleged that some senior government officials were breaking their own ban by facilitating

shipments to Vietnam.

The environmental watchdogs said they had obtained copies of two timber-export deals

which supported their suspicions that government officials were ignoring their own

law.

They displayed a copy of one contract they claimed showed the complicity of Hun Sen's

personal bodyguard units in the illegal export of 56,306 cubic meters of round logs

worth about $11.5 million.

The Nov 15 contract, signed by Forestry Director Or Soeun and Commerce Minister Cham

Prasidh, approves the export to Vietnam through Kratie province of 25,000 cubic meters

of processed wood - stated to be the equivalent of 56,306 cubic meters of round logs

- by the Hak Hy Import Export company. Hun Sen's bodyguard units are identified in

the document as holding the previous rights to the wood.

"I would like to inform you that the Royal Government of Cambodia has decided

to allow Hak Hy Import Export Co Ltd instead of the Committee of Security Barracks

[to the Second Prime Minister] to export 25,000 cubic meters of processed wood,"

an attached letter from Agriculture Secretary of State Chea Song to Cham Prasidh.

Or Soeun denied the environmentalists' charge, insisting that the deal was for processed

wood made from "anarchic logs"-seized raw timber that was illegally cut

but should not be wasted.

Global Witness told the Post that anarchic logs have a habit of mysteriously turning

up and are later processed by timber companies with good connections in the government.

"Basically, you have high-level people exporting 50,000 cubic meters of round

logs while an export ban is in place," Global Witness investigator Simon Taylor

said.

General Huy Piseth, a deputy commander of Hun Sen's bodyguard unit, denied his men

are involved in the timber trade, saying the 1,500-strong security force was too

busy protecting the Second Prime Minister and his wife, Bun Rany, to seek other sources

of income.

Global Witness also claimed at the press conference that 200 logs are being extracted

from Kampot province's Bokor National Park every day with the help of Cambodian army

soldiers from the Pich Nil Jungle Training School.

"If that's going on in a national park, you can imagine what is happening in

the rest of the country," Taylor said.

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