Timber that could sell for an estimated $100 million has been pilfered from Ratanakkiri province’s Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary through the illegal cutting of about 16,000 trees, a senior employee of rights group Adhoc said yesterday.
Calling the devastation the worst in a wildlife sanctuary in years, Adhoc provincial co-ordinator Chhay Thy said authorities, villagers and his organisation had discovered widespread logging outside economic land concession (ELC) areas during the past four days.
“Villagers used to get resin from the forest,” he said. “Now it’s disappeared. Sixteen thousand trees with luxury-grade timber have been cut down in a 15-square-kilometre area.”
The patrols found more than 3,000 freshly felled trees yesterday alone and witnessed trucks driving timber into nearby areas granted to foreign companies as ELCs, Thy said.
“Forest has been logged more and more in the name of ELCs. They log outside the areas, then bring the timber into the company’s boundaries, and it becomes legal.”
The logged timber – which included orki, chheu teal, trach, phtiek and sokram – was of the second-highest grade and could sell for up to $400 per cubic metre in the provinces or for $1,000 in Phnom Penh and abroad, Thy said.
Each tree contained between five and seven cubic metres of timber, meaning the total potential sale price exceeded $100 million. Villagers and officials from Kon Mom district’s Sre Angkrang commune had led Adhoc officers into the sanctuary yesterday, Thy said.
“Groups of loggers have been transporting 20 to 30 truckloads of timber out of the area each day,” he said. “They stopped when we began making reports two weeks ago.”
After rampant logging in the area attracted the media, commune chief Chhoem Sokhim visited the wildlife sanctuary with an official from the Agriculture Ministry on Sunday.
“I saw four men transporting timber into the Hoang Anh Andong Meas company [grounds] nearby,” he said, referring to a Vietnamese company that was granted a 99-year land concession in 2011. “They did not know Khmer so I could not speak with them.”
Four ELCs have been granted to similarly named companies in Ratanakkiri: Hoang An Andong Meas (9,775 hectares), Hoang Anh Lumphat (9,470), Hoang Anh Ou Ya Dav (9,000) and Hong An Mang Yang Rubber (6,891). Hoang An Andong Meas is the only one actually inside the wildlife sanctuary.
The Ministry of Commerce’s website lists Nguyen Van Thu as the contact person for that company and also for Hoang Anh Lumphat.
When contacted, Van Thu said he was involved with Andong Meas, but appeared confused when asked about logging. “I’m very tired and can meet you tomorrow,” he said.
A villager, who asked not to be named, said he was aware of a “boss and buyer” named Tha who had cut down hundreds of trees. “He said: ‘Whether you allow me to or not doesn’t matter – I’m cutting them down.’”
Sim Rith, the Ministry of Agriculture official who accompanied the commune chief on Sunday, played down the seriousness of the logging.
“We just saw a few villagers cut trees to build homes. They stopped logging when they saw us,” he said.
Yi Soksan, Adhoc’s land and natural resources investigator, said he would compile a report and present it to the government. “We are calling for immediate action to stop the illegal logging and bring the perpetrators and their colluders to court,” he said.
Provincial governor Pao Ham Phan said he needed information showing how serious the logging was before he could act. “We have a policy to take action against logging and are practising it. When we receive a report from the higher authority, we will investigate it,” he said.
The claims follow Adhoc’s claim, published in the Post on April 11, that three companies with ELCs – including Hoang Anh Andong Meas – had felled thousands of trees in the wildlife sanctuary since late last year.
More than 500 logs of luxury-grade timber – totalling about 80 cubic metres – was seized from an economic land concession elsewhere in the province, Phan Phoeun, deputy chief of the provincial Forestry Administration, claimed on Monday.
The timber was allegedly found on land belonging to Hoang Anh Ou Ya Dav, but the authorities were not investigating the matter.
Additional reporting by Shane Worrell