National parks and other protected areas are being gutted at a rapid rate in Stung Treng and Ratanakkiri by private business interests, among them the powerful Try Pheap Group, a report launched yesterday claims, though authorities have disputed certain figures.
The report, titled Logs and Patronage: Systematic Illegal Logging and the Destruction of State Forests and Protected Areas in Rattanakiri and Stung Treng Provinces, claims groups in control of government-granted economic land concessions (ELCs) have utilised deep connections to ravage valuable forest for timber and industrial crops such as rubber at an incredible rate.
In 2014 alone, at least 81,000 trees, or 243,000 cubic metres of timber, were taken out of northern Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng provinces, the report estimates.
In Virachey National Park, the report says, at least eight companies have been granted ELCs covering 65,149 hectares, with two Pheap companies accounting for 18,735 of those hectares.
But in spite of this devastating path, researchers claimed that authorities charged with protecting these areas are often the ones paving the way for them to be felled.
“At least 25 institutions, from local to provincial and national level . . . are involved in taking money from logging transporters,” it reads.
Sot Piseth, a representative of the independent researcher group in attendance at the launch, said Try Pheap’s companies, which were the main focus of the report, not only cut down forest, but also purchased luxury wood from smaller landholders.
Tek Vannara, executive director of report publisher the NGO Forum, said that continued pressure on natural resources over the past few years has worsened due to international markets in China, Vietnam and Laos, as well as the conversion of natural forests into plantations.
“It exists because of . . . the timber trade of the big companies, the scale of the regional and international demand for timber and the land grabbing conducted by traders and people in the local area,” he said.
While Try Pheap representatives could not be reached for comment, he has in the past specifically denied his involvement in logging in areas such as Virachey.
On July 10, he sent out a statement saying that the company “does not log and destroy forest illegally in Virachey National Park”.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Environment said on January 6 that Pheap returned his two concessions in the park – though after they had been stripped of luxury timber.
However, while he affirmed his ministry’s willingness to engage in consultation for the future, Srun Darith, Environment Ministry cabinet chief, said many of the numbers in the report, which were collected in 2014, do not reflect the Kingdom’s current situation.
“I want the report to reflect all directions of the situation, both positive and negative, so that we can seek a solution together,” he said, adding that six companies, not eight, had been granted ELCs in Virachey.
Moung Poy, chief of the Ratanakkiri Provincial Council, echoed this sentiment and suggested editing certain figures to make it more official.