AGRICULTURE Minister Tao Seng Huor accused SL International (formerly Samling) of
breaches of its contract with the government in late April. The Malaysian-based logging
company was charged with cutting trees before it was officially permitted to do so,
cutting wood without supervision by forestry officials, harvesting trees smaller
than allowed and continuing to exploit timber resources after the logging ban came
into effect on Dec 31, 1996.
SL officials declined to respond to the charges, saying that the matter had been
sent to counsel for consideration. "We have received the letter and are deciding
how to respond," said country manager Jeffery Han. "The matter has been
referred to our legal office in Malaysia. Any comment at this time would not be appropriate."
Tao Seng Huor's allegations came in a Ministry of Agriculture warning, sent to SL
International's director Apr 29, for "conducting logging operations in the wrong
It went on to authorize the company to continue activities in its 424,280 hectare
concession in Kratie province and informed the director that a second offense would
not be tolerated. It stated that the company would not be fined and would be allowed
to continue transporting felled logs to the sawmill under Forestry officials' supervision.
The SL Cambodia director Han said his company has not discussed the warning with
the Ministry of Agriculture. "We have not responded to anybody."
SL, meanwhile, has complained to the two Prime Ministers about illegal loggers operating
in their concession, according to Tao Seng Huor.
Huor said he was sent to the Kratie district of Snoul May 21 to investigate the SL
complaint, adding: "I wanted to know the reality of the report SL sent to the
two Prime Ministers on May 2. I received an order from the two Prime Ministers to
SL director Han did not confirm any such complaint to the PMs when asked by the Post.
Huor denied that his warning and SL's report four days later were linked. But while
in the area to investigate SL's complaints, he said he took to meet with company
representatives during the visit.
"There are problems with SL - not big problems - and the government tried to
warn the concessionaire," he said.
Asked if there was evidence of SL's alleged improprities, he said: "According
to the report of the Forestry Department, there is proof."
Huor was accompanied to Snoul district by RCAF General Chief of Staff Gen Ke Kim
Yan and Hun Sen military advisor Gen Mol Roeup on the May 21 investigation.
"We have to end illegal logging and we have taken the decision that felled logs
cannot be transported any more," said Hour. "All of the control is to be
under the provincial administration mandate."
Local officials around Snoul interviewed by the Post supported some of the Ministry
of Agriculture's complaints about SL, and also some of SL's complaints about illegal
One local source said there was illegal logging in the area, such as in a government-protected
wildlife santuary. The source suggested that in some places there was a struggle
for control between SL and local military who had cut wood in the area for years.
The arrival of Samling two years ago had altered the soldiers' routine of cutting
logs and transporting them to Vietnam across the border at Valeou, or processing
them at sawmills in Snoul district.
According to SL International employees in the area, at the beginning of the contract,
the company had some skirmishes with soldiers that did not want to lose their earnings
and were ready to defend their livelihoods with arms.
"I am a forester but I cannot go and control what is going on in the forest,"
complained a local source. "The Samling concession is only controlled by itself.
There are people who come from Phnom Penh to control it."
As well as Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldiers who are based in the area, SL has
its own security contingent. Many of its security forces are recruits from RCAF,
and are recognizable by an orange and yellow triangle on one shoulder of their RCAF
Environmental activists Global Witness, who recently sent a team into the area, applauded
the decision of the Minister of Agriculture to issue a warning to SL. Global Witness
has long been critical of SL's activities, and the company in turn has consistently
denied any wrong-doing.
Jeffery Han, of SL, confirmed that his company is currently suing the Cambodia Daily
newspaper, in the Cambodian courts, for a March article which quoted Global Witness.
"Whether we will take legal action against Global Witness will depend on what
the Cambodian courts decide," he said.