Newly declared protected areas in Prey Lang forest are being illegally logged by companies belonging to a three-star general and his sister, according to Goldman Environmental Prize-winning conservationist Ouch Leng and NGOs with which he is working.
Leng, along with 15 NGO officers, patrollers and environmental activists, allege the forest in Preah Vihear’s Rovieng district is being logged daily by two companies and hauled to a timber processing facility, known as Factory 95.
Leng claimed Factory 95 is owned by three-star General Seng Kok Hieng and his sister Seng Keang who, he said, obtained a licence to collect forestry products from two economic land concessions owned by companies Thy Nga and PNT. Attempts to reach both were unsuccessful yesterday.
“What I saw with my own eyes was that huge logs were hauled from Prey Lang. They have run the logging business for a long time,” Leng said.He said his team observed four heavy trucks transporting logs yesterday alone; three travelled to Factory 95, while the fourth ventured into Kampong Cham province, with no response from authorities.
He added that the forest inside the companies’ ELCs had been exhausted, and so loggers had began branching out to the protected areas.
The government designated 400,000 hectares as protected forest inside the multi-province sprawl of Prey Lang in May. However, activists claim forestry crime in the area remains rampant, despite Prime Minister Hun Sen’s vow to eliminate it at that site.
“Logging at Prey Lang has not decreased, but the government just shouted to gain popularity. The timber traders are the government officials. To end the logging, all sawmills in the country must be closed,” Leng said.
Chea Hean, director of the Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organization, who investigated alongside Leng, estimated that each of the trucks carried at least 40 cubic metres of luxury logs.
“Some trees are logged by local villagers, who sell it to the factory for $100 per cubic metre. It is haphazard logging without any prevention,” Hean said.“The timber factory is heavily guarded and surrounded with closed walls. No one is allowed to enter.”
But Sandan Forestry Administration official Sao Vanny, yesterday denied the allegations, saying that Seng Keang had permission to transport timber.
Rovieng Forestry Administration chief Chey Setha agreed that Seng Keang had obtained a legal licence to collect the forestry benefits within those concessions and that he had witnessed no illicit logging.
“I’ve inspected and I know the collection of timber is only in the company [ELCs], but I do not know about any [irregular] cases,” he said. “In fact, now the hauling is impossible, because the road is very muddy and slippery. I think that the company halted work temporarily since the ground is wet.”