Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Praised logging firm's practices less than 'heroic'

Praised logging firm's practices less than 'heroic'

Praised logging firm's practices less than 'heroic'

Prime Minister Hun Sen was apparently given incorrect and incomplete information

regarding a Taiwanese logging concessionaire just prior to the latest donors meeting

according to documents obtained by the Post .

Forestry Minister Chea Song wrote to Hun Sen on Sep 2, purportedly quoting an interim

report by Australian forestry expert Graeme Brown describing Hero Taiwan as "ranked

nearly the world's best" in terms of good forestry practices and other similar

accolades.

Brown, an Australian community forester volunteering with the Ratanakiri Department

of Environment, has been investigating complaints made against Hero Taiwan earlier

this year by Ratanakiri Kreung hill tribes people.

The Kreung have alleged that the company, backed by compliant provincial political

and military officials, has been illegally logging the tribe's sacred "spirit

forest" areas.

Hero Taiwan has also been criticized by the environmental watchdog organization Global

Witness for illegal logging practices in Ratanakiri.

Song concludes his report to the Prime Minister by noting that "Mr. Graeme Brown

[has] evaluated that the operation of the Hero company in Ratanakiri is excellent."

While donors have applauded Government efforts to crack down on illegal logging they

have continued to express concern over violations of forestry guidelines by legal

concessionaires.

The issue of logging was not a major topic of the latest donors meeting on Oct 27,

with most focusing on military demobilization.

But Song did say at that time that the timber industry was under control.

"We have successfully cracked down on illegal forest activities and established

basic conditions of initializing the process of sustainable forest management in

Cambodia," he said during the meeting.

However Brown's written evaluations of Hero Taiwan's practices in Ratanakiri directly

contradict Song's assertions and suggest that Hero Taiwan's conduct in Ratanakiri

is anything but "excellent".

Brown declined to be interviewed by the Post but his initial June 2 report, which

the letter quoted, actually said: "From the limited area inspected it appeared

that a high standard of forest practices was possible." However for this to

happen Brown suggested a number of improvements including more monitoring and study

as well as increased protection of the concession area's soil and water, particularly

in the wet season.

Brown's Oct 12, 1999 "Report on the Hero Concession" which includes information

from both the report of June 2 and another dated June 29, paints a damning indictment

of the company's failure to comply with the provisions of its concession agreement

and lists a litany of Hero Taiwan's violations of Cambodia's forest code and the

rights of the Kreung tribes people.

In his report, Brown notes that "The Hero Company has little or no intention

of following the concession management plan [and] the 1999 annual cutting plan is

also being ignored."

Brown also documents ongoing illegal logging practices by Hero Taiwan, such as the

cutting of unmarked trees and luxury-class timber trees, that constitute direct violations

of its concession agreement with the government.

In contrast to Song's assertions that Hero Taiwan was working to ensure that "Hero

company does not violate spirit forests [and] water quality," Brown wrote that

"The company is reported to be again cutting within identified spirit forest,"

while logging and road construction in the wet season "represents a threat to

water catchment quality."

Brown also noted that Hero was cutting trees outside its concession area.

His reports says: "It is clear from villagers' comments and GPS [global positioning

satellite) readings that logging activities by the Hero company are in no way confined

to the coupe area for 1999.

"Indeed it appears the company does not appear to be bound by their management

plan."

Efforts by the Post to meet with Song in order to clarify his assessment of the Hero

Taiwan concession in Ratanakiri were unsuccessful.

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