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Govt powerless to halt logs

Govt powerless to halt logs

ABAN on exporting logs and sawn timber was re-imposed on March 31, but the flow

of wood across the borders will be virtually impossible to stop, admitted the

Environment Minister Dr Mok Mareth.

Mareth confessed that his ministry

and the Ministry of Agriculture have yet to decide who has responsibility for

the ban and there are few border officials to police it.

The government

is so short of enforcement officials it is even prepared to offer private

citizens a bounty of 10 percent of the value of timber they intercept, the

minister added

He said: "Law enforcement will be a very difficult task.

We do not yet have a system of punishment, and we do not have a budget. But we

must find a way to encourage the provinces and every institution to work

together."

The ministry also is facing obstruction from provincial

authorities on the border and, with leading officials jealously guarding their

stakes in the illicit trade.

An environmental expert said that some

factions within the central government also have a vested interest in avoiding

the ban.

Logs are Cambodia's most valuable export, with the government

owning three sawmills and the rest being in the hands of the influential

businessmen.

The feeling of powerlessness among those in the government

seeking to enforce the ban was summed up by the Ministry of Agriculture's Under

Secretary of State May Sam Oeun who said: "Unfortunately, there are people who

are stronger than our policies of forest protection."

Explaining the

magnitude of the task facing him, Mareth cited an example of a blitz launched

last year to prevent logs crossing into Vietnam from Kratie province.

The

government despatched three hundred police and 20 forestry guards on the mission

but they quickly succumbed to bribes from Vietnamese traffickers and little if

any timber was stopped.

Mareth said he sympathized with the offficials

as they were only paid $30 a month and faced harsh conditions in border

camps.

The crackdown was, said Mareth, "a failure." He is now campaigning

to raise the bounty on intercepted logs to 30 percent.

Mareth hopes a new

national committee for forest protection, comprised of officials from the

Ministries of Agriculture, Environment and Defense, will attract greater

government funding and raise awareness of the problem.

The committee

plans to meet every two weeks and organize inspection trips to the

provinces.

An environmental advisor close to the government said: "The

ban is silly. It won't stop anything. We could do a lot more damage control if

the government would open one or two regulated export centers and charge

extremely high tariffs."

Untac attempted to stem the illegal flow of wood

with border patrol teams, but the quantity was too great, said Mbella Ngongi of

UNDP. The teams ultimately opted for simple monitoring.

The original

Untac-imposed ban lasted only twelve months before it was temporarily lifted by

the government on Dec 31, giving logging companies - mostly Thai - a three month

grace period to finish contracts.

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