The Government seems to have no shame when it comes to defending its destruction
of the country's forests.
In a letter to your newspaper (19 April-2 May) the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry
and Fisheries brazenly reassured your readers that the procedures for exporting timber
to Thailand are "perfectly clear and respected" and guarantee "high
respect of the law and the environment". The wood to be exported is only "old
wood" and as a guarantee the Thai companies concerned will have to show forestry
officials "the details of their dossier" thus permit-ting the Forestry
Department "to verify that it is really proved to be old wood as well as to
avoid any new wood".
All this might be reassuring were it not for three simple questions: Why was this
"perfectly clear" deal once again kept secret? How much is the Government,
its leaders, and its enemy and business partner, the Khmer Rouge, going to make from
the deal? And, most basic of all, when was all this "old wood" cut?
No problem about the last point, H.E. Tao Seng Huor asserts, because the timber to
be exported was "wood cut before the 30 April 1995 cut-off date". Can it
be that the Minister responsible for forestry does not know that the "30 April
1995 cut-off date" was for an end to timber export only? Has he somehow forgotten
that commercial logging for export has been illegal in Cambodia since the end of
1992, a ban re-affirmed by the Government in September 1993, March 1994, December
1994, and (theoretically) still in place today?!
Ever since the Supreme National Council imposed the log export moratorium on 22 September
1992, the image of thousands of "old" logs has been continually evoked
to justify exceptions. In late 1993, the Government suspended the export moratorium
on the basis that an estimated "over 200,000 cubic meters" of logs cut
before the ban were rotting near the border, primarily in Khmer Rouge areas.
The moratorium was "definitely" re-imposed on 31 March 1994, only to
be secretly broken by the two Prime Ministers less than two months later. Again,
the myth of the "old timber" rotting away was used to allow the Ministry
of Defences to illicitly issue licenses for the export of, at least, 1.3 million
cubic meters of logs to Thailand by December 1994. Faced with uniform opposition,
the Prime Ministers claimed to re-think their policy. At the end of 1994, they declared
a new moratorium on logging, despite the fact that the previous moratorium had never
been legally lifted and that they were simultaneously negotiating and giving away
huge new logging concessions. And then, again using the excuse of "old"
logs, they permitted export of timber for another four months until 30 April 1995.
Now, the Government claims that the export ban must be suspended because of this
spontaneously appearing "old wood". How much remains, H.E. Tao Seng Huor
claims not to know. This is worrying. After all, he was head of a Commission specifically
set up in July 1994 to inspect and count all felled timber. Needless to say, his
"Commission to Investigate and Examine the Problem of Unprocessed and Processed
Timber" never publicly reported its findings, if indeed it ever made any. (Again,
as Minister of Agriculture, H.E. Tao Seng Huor is responsible under the 7 Jan 1995
Government procedures for preparing a detailed annual export plan for timber to be
formally attached to the Budget revenue projection. Can he explain what's happened
to this export plan since?) Whatever the figures, it seems extremely unlikely, after
three years frantic export, that of a total of around 200,000 cubic meters of logs
about to rot, some one million cubic meters of good quality timber remain!
As any "old logs" which do remain have clearly been felled after 1992,
then that leaves only two options. Either the logs were felled illegally in Government
areas - in which case they should be seized and auctioned off by H.E. Tao Seng Huor's
Control Committee and the companies responsible should be punished. Or they were
felled in Khmer Rouge areas - in which case the companies have both violated the
logging ban and have illegally conducted business with an outlawed bandit group.
Either way, the Government must punish - not secretly do business with - foreign
companies who show a complete disregard for Cambodia's forests and its people.
That would be the way to truly guarantee "high respect of the law and of the
- Sam Rainsy, President of the Khmer Nation Party.