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SGS report praises gov't action on forest crimes

SGS report praises gov't action on forest crimes

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A tree bound for the new National Assembly building.

The independent monitor of illegal logging has released a mostly positive report

about the government's response to forest crimes during the second quarter of 2005,

despite spending most of its time focused on the transport of already felled timber.

Societe Generale de Surveillance (SGS) spent 57 percent of its field time verifying

log measurements and checking the movements of 6,895 logs, according to their August

18 report covering April to June.

In January the government overturned a moratorium on transporting felled timber,

and during the second quarter SGS checked the movement of logs carried out by 14

logging concessionares.

SGS reported that 1,953 logs had been taken from the controversial Tumring concession,

as well as the Colexium IIA concession (1,565 logs), Colexium IA (1,132) and Samrong

(750).

"No illegal log movements were detected during the quarter," stated the

report, which was released publicly a month after submission to the government for

comment.

The royalties on these transported logs totaled $1.8 million as of July 7, according

to an appendix to the SGS report signed by Kith Bunna, deputy director of the Forest

Affairs Office at the Forestry Administration.

Royalty payments were not independently verified by SGS, said director Robert Tennent.

Officials at the Ministry of Economy and Finance said Secretary of State Ouk Rabun

and another secretary of state, Aun Porn Moniroth, were responsible for monitoring

the incoming budget. Neither could be reached by the Post to confirm the royalties

had been paid to the government.

In May, an SGS field inspection team traveled to Ratanakkiri to see trees marked

for felling in a "special domestic coupe" set aside for providing luxury-grade

timber for the new National Assembly building.

"The team observed a large area of encroachment adjacent to the special coupe

area ... [and] there was a regrettable lack of forest management skills displayed

by the people conducting the land clearing, with the team observing many large and

valuable trees which had been felled and burned," the report stated.

An SGS analysis of 1,178 reports of forest crimes between December 1 and May 31 showed

that Kratie led the provinces with the most incidents, followed by Pursat and Kampong

Speu.

"SGS found that the Forestry Administration and Ministry of Environment responded

to reports from NGOs and SGS, and took action in all cases," stated the report.

However, Mike Davis, a campaigner for Global Witness, the former independent monitor,

said the new report shows little or no evidence of progress.

"The report says that the government has acted on all SGS recommendations, but

it doesn't say anything about the extremely unambitious level of these recommendations,

or even if they actually have been successfully implemented," Davis said.

The latest SGS report offers no questioning or criticism of those in power, but casts

blame for forest crimes in the direction of the rural poor, he said.

Mogens Christensen, head of the international donor's Working Group for Natural Resources

with the Ministry of Environment, offered a gentler view.

"SGS has performed a really good job within their mandate, but it also transpires

that not all aspects of forestry crime can be captured by SGS, and in that context

an NGO such as Global Witness plays an important role," Christensen said.

SGS Director Robert Tennent defended the organization's role, saying the company

worked within its terms of reference and was listened to by the government.

"Our brief is not to go out and find illegal logging, but to monitor the situation

and then make the appropriate recommendations to the local authorities," Tennent

said.

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