The Council of Ministers has ordered licences granted to private companies to log and collect timber from social land concessions (SLC) and state-owned land revoked, following years of allegations that some companies were exploiting the permits to carry out illegal logging.
The council on Monday released a directive ordering that Duong Sruoch Group – which was recently accused of logging illegally – as well as other companies no longer be permitted to collect timber from SLCs following a request from the Ministry of Environment on February 20.
Keo Omalis, deputy director of the Forestry Administration, said he was not aware of the new directive. According to him, the Ministry of Agriculture had cancelled the licence for Duong Sruoch Group last month, but he said this was because there was no more wood to collect. However, in late January, Preah Vihear’s Choam Ksan district Governor Chea Kim Seng said Duong Sruoch Group had been subcontracted to clear a social land concession area and to build a road, but instead had only stripped the area of timber.
“The cancellation is based on the request by the provincial governor of Preah Vihear,” Omalis said.
The Agriculture Ministry had also granted a licence to the same company in December covering 1,500 hectares in Stung Treng, but Hou Sam Ol, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that part of the area had been logged before the licence was granted.
Omalis said the Agriculture Ministry had been planning in the next few weeks to inspect SLCs to see if there was still wood for licensed companies to collect. If there wasn’t, their licences would have been cancelled. With the new directive, he expects the ministry to cancel all of them regardless.
He also conceded that the proposed action was connected to allegations of wrongdoing by some companies.
“I’m sure that there’s illegal activity linked to that, so we need to take bold action,” he said.
Environment Minister Say Samal declined to comment, and referred questions to ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap, who could not be reached.
Conservationist Marcus Hardtke said the “timber collection licences” were a major loophole for companies.
“They are driving the illegal timber trade in Cambodia since years,” he said in an email. “Illegally sourced timber is laundered via [economic land concession and social land concession] agreements on a massive scale.”
Pen Bonnar, senior land and natural resources investigator for rights group Adhoc, said the government should not only cancel the companies’ licences, but also investigate them.
“The logging beyond its boundary is a criminal crime, so those companies need to take responsibility,” he said Hardtke, however, was sceptical that action beyond cancellation of licences would be taken.
“[But] if no more of these ‘illegal logging licences’ would be issued, it would be a step in the right direction,” he said.