The environmental watch-dog organization Global Witness (GW) has produced documents signed by Ratanakiri Provincial Governor Kham Khiev and high-ranking Military Police officials that indicate active official involvement in illegal logging activities in the province.
After an inspection of the province between Jan 17 - 25 as part of GW's new Independent Monitoring role as part of the Royal Government of Cambodia's Forest Monitoring Unit, GW Director Patrick Alley produced a sobering assessment of illegal logging activity in the northern province.
"The evidence we've uncovered shows that there isn't any official [compliance] with Prime Minister Hun Sen's logging crackdown," Alley told the Post. "Illegal logging in Ratanakiri has undoubtedly been reduced since the crackdown began in early 1999, but Ratanakiri provincial authorities are doing zip to prevent it."
As evidence Alley produced a document dated November 11 1999 signed by Ratanakiri Provincial Governor Kham Khiev that authorized Ratanakiri's deputy military commander Nuon Channa to collect twenty square meters of logs during a three week period "to build a military base". Khiev's letter instructs village and district officials "to assist in facilitating" the logging.
"What happened is that they actually spent six weeks and took thirty square meters of wood," Alley said. "Such an authorization is a direct violation of Hun Sen's declaration against illegal logging."
In another instance, Global Witness was supplied with a document dated Nov 30, 1999 and signed by Ratanakiri Military Police Captain Thav Thoeung asking district chiefs compliance with an MP operation to transfer 20 logs to a sawmill.
"Basically [Thoeung] gave himself permission to log illegally," Alley explained. "According to the document, he said he needed the timber for the construction of a military base, but he took highly valuable luxury-class timber for the job."
According to Alley, Ratanakiri's Provincial Environment Department is fighting a losing battle to put a halt to "official collusion" in illegal logging in the province.
"At a meeting we attended of officials of the Military Police and representatives of the Forestry and Environment Departments, the Director of the Environment Department stated that there was lots of illegal logging occurring in Ratanakiri, that [logs] were going over the border [into Vietnam] and that local sawmills were processing timber illegally," Alley said. "Then the Forestry and Military Police officials proceeded to rubbish his assertions....the Director of the Forestry Department, Chay Vuth, blamed illegal logging on swidden (slash and burn) agriculture, while the MPs challenged him to either name names and provide proof or to shut up."
Alley described the evidence of the involvement of Khiev in illegal logging as "a continuation of an old problem".
"For years we documented [Khiev's] involvement in illegal logging as head of Ratanakiri's provincial police," Alley explained. "We feel it was a mistake to put someone like [Khiev] in charge."
Global Witness also recorded new evidence of illegal logging activities by Ratanakiri's Hero-Taiwan logging concessionaire, which has repeatedly been found to have illegally logged the sacred "spirit forests" of the Kreung hill tribe since early 1999.
While noting that such violations of aboriginal land apparently ended in Dec 1999, Alley says that new evidence of illegal cutting should prompt the government to cancel Hero-Taiwan's concession contract.
"Hero have been cutting outside [legally proscribed areas] for a whole year, and this has been extensively documented by both GW and other sources," Alley said. "Hero's proven beyond a doubt that they're incapable or unwilling to implement good concession management...they should go."
However Ratanakiri's second deputy governor Bun Hom Oun Many said that they had recently participated in a workshop with Global Witness and this specific case was not raised.
He said he was unaware of the problem.
Meanwhile head of army Meas Sophea is said to be in the firing line from Hun Sen for his refusal or inability to rein in his troops.