Forest activists in Battambang province’s Samlot district said on Thursday that a company that has received an economic land concession (ELC) in the area is trading timber from outside its ELC boundary.
The activists said Rath Sambath, whose ELC is located near the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, had bought timber from outsiders who transported the wood from many parts of the sanctuary.
A resident from the district’s Kampong Lpov commune who requested anonymity told The Post on Thursday that over the past two weeks, loggers from outside Samlot district had illegally cleared forest in the sanctuary and sold the wood to the firm.
He alleged that some of them also crossed the border in search of luxury wood in Thailand and sold them to the same company. “Most of the wood is of the Chheuteal and Koki type,” he said.
Ta Tork commune police chief Lim Yun said he had not seen any trucks carrying large timber to sell to the company. Yun said he had occasionally seen some villagers transporting Krak, which is used to make poles or fence, but no luxury timber.
“Most timbers was from their farmlands,” he said.
Battambang provincial environment department director Kort Boran told The Post on Thursday that a part of the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary is mere “brushwood” and not a jungle area with big trees.
He said remaining forest in Battambang is concentrated in Samlot district, which connects it to Pailin province and Thailand’s Chonburi province.
“I believe some people have illegally crossed the border to log wood and bring the timber to sell to local companies. But I don’t believe there is any logging in the Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary because the area has no big trees at all,” he said.
Boran said his department has no authority to probe claims of Rath Sambath’s timber trade, though he will order park rangers to continue patrolling the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary and the Samlot area.
Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary director Heang Pronh said his rangers had found no cases of forestry crimes in the sanctuary in recent patrols.
“If the villagers fell trees on their farmlands to sell to timber depots or private firms, it might be true. And if that’s the case, our rangers have no right to prohibit them. I think some villagers’ reports are baseless,” he said.
Provincial forestry administration director Pit Phireak said the company in question, Rath Sambath, is planting cashew nuts, rubber trees and other agroforestry crops on its 2,000ha-plus economic land concession.
“I don’t know if the company is buying timber from loggers outside the concession areas as claimed by the villagers. But if the timber is cut from their farmlands, it’s not illegal, unless it’s from protected areas,” he said.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries spokesman Srey Vuthy on Thursday said the company has the right to reap forestry benefits – if it is within its ELC boundary.
“The company has no right to collect forestry benefits outside its land,” he said.
The Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary covers approximately 60,000ha, spanning Pursat and Battambang provinces.
It is rich in biodiversity and home to more than 200 species of birds, over 60 species of mammals, more than 50 kinds of reptiles, over 60 kinds of fish and thousands of insect species, said a study by the Ministry of Environment and Fauna and Flora International.