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Gov't sues logging company

Gov't sues logging company

In an unprecedented show of forestry law enforcement, the Ministry of Environment

is taking the Green Elite Company to court for continuing to clear forest without

an approved Environmental Impact Assessment.

This is a full policy swing from March 2004, when the government illegally allowed

Green Elite to clear-cut 18,200 hectares in the Botum Sakor National Park, Koh Kong


Soon after receiving the government's stamp of approval, the company began clearing

patches of Melaleuca forest for eucalyptus and acacia plantations in the southwest's

vital wetlands.

The Ministry of Environment suspended Green Elite's operations in May 2004, pending

an EIA from the company, but the company allegedly continued to cut.

Green Elite submitted an EIA in October 2004, but this move came too late, and the

government confirmed December 29 that it was preparing a case against Green Elite's

forestry activities.

A Ministry of Environment official said Wednesday that he expected to have the Ministry's

case ready for court proceedings early next year.

"Green Elite was operating before submitting an Impact Assessment to the Ministry

of Environment, and continued to operate after it was suspended for this," said

the senior official, who declined to be named.

Article 4 of the 2002 Forestry Law says "an Environmental and Social Impact

Assessment shall be prepared for any major forest ecosystem related activity that

may cause adverse impact on society and environment."

Aerial photographs from forestry watchdog Global Witness showed woodchip processing

on site.

Green Elite is a subsidiary of Indonesian-based Asia Pulp and Paper, one of the largest

pulp and paper companies in the world.

Green Elite applied to the government last April for an additional 300,000 hectares

of land in Kampot and Koh Kong provinces, but the request has yet to be decided.

Arian Ardie, Asia Pulp and Paper's director of sustainability, said he was unaware

the Ministry of Environment had decided to take them to court.

Responding to the Ministry's accusation that Green Elite had continued to operate

in the national park after being suspended, Ardie said that to the best of his knowledge,

operations had ceased at the time of suspension.

Mike Davis from Global Witness - the government's former independent forestry monitor

- said he endorses the government's actions for "getting [Green Elite] on the

EIA", but said he is more concerned with other forest crime violations made

by the company and members of the government.

"We would argue there is a bigger issue at stake here," he said. "You

can't just go into a national park and start ripping down a forest, whatever kind

of documents you have got, or whoever signed them.

"It's an overall culture of how state assets, particularly management of natural

resources, works here - senior officials treating state assets as their own private

property and regarding their own actions as above the law," he added.

Davis said it was likely that increased pressure from NGOs, public outcry and the

December 2004 Consultative Group meeting pushed the government into action.

"There has been an issue of cumulative pressure on the government for about

nine months now. The CG meeting may have played a part as it picked up on the underlying

theme of mismanagement of natural resources," he said.

Robert Tennent, director of the government's current independent forestry monitor,

SGS, said he had not heard anything official from the Ministry of Environment about

Green Elite's activities.

"We are getting reports from the [Environment] Ministry," he said, "but

it will be some way down the line before we hear from them I think.

"I am meeting [Green Elite] in two weeks time. I don't know much about them,

but they are concerned about their image and want to come and inspect operations

to make sure nothing untoward [happens]," Tennent said.

Ardie confirmed a team from APP, as well as an unnamed international organization,

are planning to visit Cambodia in January to assess proposed plantation areas.

"We are committed to purchasing only high conservation value forest and operating

legally according to the Cambodian Law," he said.

Ardie said high conservation value forests are assessed by international organizations

to determine what activities would least impact the areas environmentally and socially.

"We are going to be doing this assessment, and that's really what our next step

is as far as our Cambodian negotiations go," he said. "We are the only

company in Asia in the plantation sector using and applying this [method]."

Global Witness, conservation NGO WildAid and the United Nations Cambodia Office of

the High Commissioner for Human Rights have been closely monitoring Green Elite's


In 1998, the government granted a Taiwanese-owned company named Green Rich a 60,200-hectare

economic land concession, comprising three protected areas in Koh Kong province.

The government reduced the concession to 18,200 hectares in June 2003, confining

the company to the northern part of Botum Sakor National Park.

The national park, according to WildAid, contains forests and wetlands that provide

key watershed for the entire west of Cambodia.

During 1998 and 2004, there was minimal forestry activity in the concession area.

The Green Rich Company allegedly went bankrupt, selling their concession to Green

Elite in the beginning of 2004.

WildAid reported that Green Elite brought in logging equipment and workers to the

northern part of Botum Sakor National Park in mid-March 2004.

"Upon arrival, the workers started clearing large patches of Melaleuca forest,

despite the company lacking all the legally required permits and without having conducted

any of the environmental assessments mandated by law," the report said.

Davis said the company's method of clear-cutting is highly destructive, leaving a

minimal chance of regeneration.

"Cutting everything is terminal for the forest," he said. "There's

no going back."

A Human rights issue

A report prepared in November by Peter Leuprecht, Cambodian special representative

for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, said the government's policies on concessions

were "wrong".

"Economic land concessions are not meeting the promise that formed their rationale,

namely to stimulate private enterprise, contribute to the state revenue, reduce rural

property, and generate jobs for local people," said the report.

Davis agreed and said the question that rarely gets asked is "what possible

benefit does this have for the country?"

"In this [Green Elite] case, it seems there is no benefit at all for the government

budget because of waiving royalties, tax exemptions for APP," and remote province

investments, he said.

Davis said there could be significant economic costs in terms of environmental damage.

"There are underlying environmental services in terms of watershed management,

breeding grounds for fish, and it would make the area a write-off as far as tourism

is concerned," Davis said.

WildAid played a major role in monitoring working conditions at the Green Elite operation.

The workers were brought in from Kampot, but were told they owed the company for

their travel and food expenses - building up debt the workers were unable to pay


WildAid reported workers had complained of deplorable living and working conditions,

and in particular a lack of food.

In May 2004, human rights workers and police rescued workers from the concession


"[This is] in clear violation of labor law and a possible violation of the provisions

on human trafficking," said the WildAid report.

A Legal Issue

The government's approval of Green Elite's 18,200-hectare concession clearly violates

article 59 of the 2001 Land Law, which says land concessions must not exceed 10,000


Other concessions approved by the government top 170,000 hectares.

Article 3 of the 1994 Declaration on the Protection of Natural Areas prohibits deforestation

for land use in protected natural areas.

Davis said these breaches are examples of the damage the Cambodian government is

doing to its good governance promises.

"The more these illegal deals are done and the more they are allowed to happen,

the more the rule of law is undermined and, ultimately, this has a cost either in

economic returns, development or poverty reduction," Davis said.

Davis said the government should be congratulated for canceling a land concession

that has been mismanaged, but more needs to be done to bring transparency to these

kinds of issues.


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