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Pailin eyes new timber deals

Pailin eyes new timber deals

The logs strewn beside the Pailin road in January, above, have now been removed

LOGS are on the move in Pailin again. Local officials have received permission from

the Government to use 100 cubic meters of timber to make furniture for the town's

newly built city hall. But to finance the transport of the logs and the manufacture

of the furniture, the former Khmer Rouge stronghold is also selling old logs to a

private company, contrary to the permission from the Council of Ministers.

"We will use most of the logs to make chairs and tables, but we have to earn

money to pay for the transportation and the cutting of the timber," says First

Deputy Governor of Pailin, Ieng Vuth.

"Therefore we cannot avoid selling some of the logs. To finance this, we are

looking for a private company," says Vuth, who maintains that Pailin leaders

are talking openly to Government officials about the sale.

Prime Minister Hun Sen gave his permission to use 100 cubic meters of logs to furnish

the Pailin city hall on June 12, and the Council of Ministers approved the request

on June 27. However, the approval from the Council of Ministers clearly states that

permission is only granted to make furniture out of the logs, not to sell them.

The Undersecretary of State for the Council of Ministers, Bun Uy, signed the letter.

"We did not allow any exportation of the logs. If they sell the logs, they have

to be responsible under the law," Bun Uy says.

The 100 cubic meters of timber will come out of a huge stockpile of old logs lying

scattered along the road between Pailin and the Thai border.

Logging used to finance large parts of the former rebels' fight against the Phnom

Penh government in the 1990s, but the Pailin timber trade has dwindled in recent

years due to an official ban on illegal logging.

Today, both sides of the border road are littered with thousands of old logs that

were reportedly cut before Pailin defected to the Government in 1996, but never sold.

In a single location on the northern side of the road, at least 6,800 cubic meters

of mostly teak - worth an estimated $1.8 million - have been piled up since last

year.

Many of these logs are now gone. Bulldozers have cleared two long strips into the

now vastly overgrown pile of timber, and some logs show fresh cuts from chainsaws.

In late October Pailin Governor Ee Chhean was seen surveying the stockpile site accompanied

by Thai business people. Chhean also advised local residents that drums with diesel

oil for machinery would be stored in the area.

Pailin officials maintain that no more than 100 cubic meters of wood will leave the

site and that they will only sell enough logs to finance the furniture for the city

hall.

"The problem is that the logs are old. They have decayed a lot, so the quality

is not so good any more. Therefore we only get a small amount of good wood out of

each log," Vuth says.

Environmental watchdog Global Witness has long advocated destruction of all old logs

lying around Cambodia. According to a Global Witness report, permission to collect

old timber has led to the vast majority of illegal logging in recent years.

The logs strewn beside the Pailin road in January, above, have now been removed

"A concession company, a military unit or a local businessman would claim to

have found a quantity of already (illegally) felled timber and apply for permission

to utilize it for its own purposes, using the excuse that the timber would otherwise

go to waste," the report said.

"In reality this felled timber did not actually exist: collection permits were

a license to cut, and when it received them, the applicant would fell fresh trees."

The problem of how to dispose of old logs without opening the door to new illegal

logging still persists, says Jon Buckrell of Global Witness.

"Old logs are currently disposed of on an ad hoc basis and in a variety of different

ways - all of which are open to abuse and none of which avoid the potential for renewed

cutting," Buckrell says.

"The Government needs to develop a clear and transparent policy for the disposal

of old logs. The destruction of old logs may prove to be the only way that fresh

cutting can be discouraged."

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