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.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year