Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Timber traders ripping out the heart of Kampong Thom

Timber traders ripping out the heart of Kampong Thom

Timber traders ripping out the heart of Kampong Thom

ILLEGAL loggers have managed to pillage more than 20,000

cubic meters of timber from Kampong Thom under the guise

of making road travel safe.

Acting director of Nature Conservation and Protection

department at the Environment Ministry, Chay Samith said

that Hun Sen had signed an agreement to allow trees 100

meters each side of the road between Kampong Thom and

Preah Vihear to be cleared, a total of about 2000 cubic

meters.

He said the clearance would deny cover to bandits who

waited to ambush passers-by.

However Samith said that instead loggers had cut down

trees in a forest reserve 7 kms from the road. They then

brought the trees to the road side and claimed they had

been cut down in the area.

Samith said the scam came to light when his staff

reported to him that 20,000 cubic meters had been

harvested and taken out of the area, but that trees by

the side of the road were still standing.

He said at least 10,000 cubic meters of the harvest were

still sitting at the road side but the ministry is

refusing to let it be moved.

Samith blames rich timber buyers for the plan, saying

they had approached local villagers and promised to pay

them if they cut the trees in the reserve and dump them

in their concession area.

Chap Mil, deputy chief of Stung district, said that trees

in the reserve area were not meant to be cut down but

they tolerated a small amount of timber being used by

villagers who needed money to support themselves through

hard times.

He said they had to let the villagers make money from

timber because they were so short of food. But, he added,

it would only be a short-term solution.

"We allow them to cut the timber at the moment but

when the rice is harvested we will stop them," he

said.

One of the villagers who asked not to be named said it

was precisely that loop hole that the professional timber

traders were exploiting.

He said that villagers went into the reserve to cut

timber saying it was for their own use, such as for

building a house, but then they sold it to the timber

traders.

However, he added, even though they had permission to cut

trees they still had to pay bribes to the local

authorities, police and soldiers in the area.

"I have to pay them [local authorities] 30,000 to

40,000 riel, and more to the soldiers or the militia on

the road."

He said even if they had written permission to cut trees

it made no difference to the soldiers. "If we show

them the paper they say `do we eat paper?' and sometimes

they fire their guns to threaten me and other

people."

A military officer based in Popok commune said that it

was difficult to work out who was carrying timber for

themselves and who was doing it for traders since there

were about 80 to 100 buffalo carts hauling timber in his

area alone.

"We cannot prevent them because they are so poor. If

we respected the rules we would have to kill them,"

he said.

However one of the local timber cutters, Sok Chea, who

lives in Sla village, said that sometimes the soldiers or

militia had arrested him and confiscated both his timber

and his money.

"If I had another job I would not go to cut the

timber because they [soldiers] have guns and we do not,

so we cannot argue with them have to pay what they

demand.

"I do this job because I have no choice."

He said that it took at least a month to fell the tree

and then turn it into planks. For that he receives 40,000

riel but half of that went in bribes.

One soldier spoken to by the Post denied there was any

corruption. Instead he said they helped the villagers,

giving them rice and protecting them from robbers.

However not all the military deny there is rampant

corruption in the area.

And they're upset about it.

One colonel said there was a double loss to the country

by the scam. Not only were the trees cut but there was no

revenue for the State from them.

He complained that the loggers were just too greedy. They

paid for 2,000 cubic meters but not the other 8,000 or

more cubic meters.

"I think that if they paid the National Budget for

8,000 cubic meters and kept 2,000 cubic meters, the

budget would be good and the salaries of the soldiers and

public servants would not be late and the economy would

not be in crisis.

"I think that if there was only a quarter of the

corruption that there is in Cambodia it would not be bad

and the budget would be a lot.

"The country would develop, but instead we have

three-quarters corruption."

Meanwhile Chap Mil is optimistic for the future.

He believed that moving control of the forests to local

authorities was leading to better control and less

"anarchy" in the industry.

"Now the government has put the forests under the

district we can more easily control it and if we find out

they [soldiers or police] are cutting the timber we will

report them directly to their bosses," he said.

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