Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Laotian soldiers fingered in illegal logging

Laotian soldiers fingered in illegal logging

Laotian soldiers fingered in illegal logging

LAO loggers have been illegally felling trees on Cambodian soil - allegedly with

the connivance of Lao soldiers - sparking high-level discussions between the two

governments.

A Cambodian delegation including Minister of Agriculture Tao

Senghour visited Vientaine in January to raise the issue.

Senghour told

the Post that he had heard that Lao military personnel had been involved, though

it was possible they were rogue soldiers or civilian gunmen.

Secret

logging near the Laotian border was believed to have been going on since before

UNTAC days, he said, but it was not clear how big the current operation

was.

Senghour said the Laos government had agreed to cooperate with

Cambodian officials to combat such logging and smuggling along the

border.

"I hope we would stop the illegal logging if the Laos government

would be loyal on the issue.

"I have already ordered my staff to

confiscate all timber and logs cut without approval.

"But...we have had

some problem with various gunmen in the forests protecting their

logs."

He said he did not know if the loggers were working in cooperation

with local Cambodian authorities, or whether the logs passed through official

Lao border checkpoints.

Cambodian firms were also conducting logging near

the border. Three of the four firms involved did not have approval to log, he

said.

The government did permit some logging in the area, and had

recently contracted a Lao firm to import already cut logs before a Cambodian ban

on timber exports took effect on April 30.

Nhim Vanda, special envoy of

the Cambodian co-Prime Ministers and president of the Timber Export Committee,

is understood to have been among a delegation of officials who visited illegal

logging areas in the past three months.

He refused to comment, saying he

had handed the issue over to other people.

The Post has been told that

the logging has been conducted as far as 4km inside the Cambodian border in Siem

Pang district of Stung Treng province.

A source alleged that local

companies and authorities were involved in the scheme, and the Cambodian

government was reluctant to raise the issue publicly for fear of jeopardizing

relations between Cambodia and Laos.

It is understood that Cambodian

state television TVK visited the area some months ago, and found what appeared

to be a camp of Lao soldiers on Cambodian territory.

TVK were instructed

by Cambodian officials not to film the soldiers.

Illegal logging by

foreign firms has been a long-standing complaint of the Cambodian government,

but most often regarding Thai firms working along Cambodia's western

border.

Ly Thuch, Under Secretary State of the Environment - whose recent

comments about Thai involvement in logging and mining drew a sharp response from

the Thai government - said such action was endangering Cambodia's

environment.

"If the government does not take strong measures against

this logging, we will have a big problem with Cambodian wildlife."

Stung

Treng is one of Cambodia's most heavily forested provinces with logging-related

activities the primary source of income there. The province maintains a large

ethnic Lao population whereby in many villages, Lao is the dominant

language.

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