A new report by the forest watchdog organization Global Witness (GW) describes widespread
illegal logging in the Mount Aural Wildlife Sanctuary with the involvement of senior
members of the Cambodian government.
The report, entitled "Taking a Cut: Institutionalized corruption and illegal
logging in Cambodia's Aural Wildlife Sanctuary--a case study", lists numerous
civilian and military officials by name as being involved in taking "payments
levied through extortion" from the illegal timber trade.
"Conditions in Aural precisely illustrate the institutionalized corruption prevalent
across the country and the government's conspicuous failure to address it,"
says the report. "Aural also testifies to the lack of government commitment
to preserving the country's protected areas, where cutting of trees is prohibited
under any circumstances. The wildlife sanctuary's centerpiece, Aural Mountain, is
Cambodia's highest peak and an important part of the country's natural heritage.
In the absence of rule of law, however, Aural is not only subject to innumerable
logging operations, but also plays host to a substantial downstream timber-processing
Senior Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) officials from Military Region 3 are cited
as being heavily involved in the forest crimes.
Officials from RCAF's Military Intelligence Division, the Prime Minister's Bodyguard
Unit B-70, the Forest Administration, the Ministry of Environment and the National
Police are also named.
The report, which is expected to be officially released today, also identifies 15
timber dealers and describes the links they maintain with government and military
officials and the various ways that illegally felled timber is processed and transported,
with much of the wood allegedly going to Vietnam.
While the amount of timber being cut in the sanctuary is difficult to verify, GW
says that "by June  there were approximately 20-40 trucks carrying timber
out of the wildlife sanctuary each day. These vehicles vary in size. Most are small
three ton trucks capable of transporting 3-5 [cubic meters] of sawn timber, although
some businesses use much larger models with a capacity of around 35 [cubic meters]."
Information collected by GW indicates that in all of Aural District there were, in
April 2004, 450 chainsaws, 65 sawmills operating band saws and 35 sawmills operating
large fixed circular saws.
Both commercial grade wood and luxury grade species used for furniture are being
cut and processed, according to GW. Technically, under Cambodian law, many of the
woods are protected and may not be cut under any circumstance.
The report documents an extensive system of bribes and payoffs that are made by wood
traders, machinery operators and transporters to a variety of government entities.
It also underscores how difficult it would be to stop the illegal trade. "Anyone
trying to break the timber industry is not only going up against well-connected businesses,
but also the full spectrum of official institutions profiting through informal taxation,"
says the report. "The latter are much more powerful than the businesses and
in most cases they are armed."