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Cambodian Government Authorises Clear-Cutting in National Park

9th July 2004

Immediate release: 9th July 2004

PRESS RELEASE

Cambodian Government Authorises Clear-Cutting in National Park

The current selling-out by senior Cambodian officials, of the country’s protected areas, has resulted in serious environmental damage to Botum Sakor National Park in southwestern Cambodia.

Officials gave the go-ahead to an 18,000 hectare plantation project inside the national park to Cambodian-Chinese company Green Rich in 2003 and 2004. This economic concession blatantly contravenes several pieces of Cambodian legislation, notably the 2001 Land Law, the 1993 Royal Decree on Protected Areas and the 1994 Ministerial Decision on Protected Areas.

In common with agro-industrial concessions in forest areas elsewhere in Cambodia, Green Rich has used its acacia plantation development as a pretext for logging. Since March this year, the company has focused on clear-cutting several hundred hectares of Botum Sakor’s Melaleuca forest and loading the wood into shipping containers in preparation for export. The Melaleuca and mangrove forests that fringe Koh Kong’s coastline are an important breeding ground for fish and their destruction has serious implications for fisheries in the area. Green Rich has also begun logging the evergreen forest that covers much of its concession. In the course of these activities, it has held a workforce of up to 300 in conditions of indentured labour with no adequate food supply or access to medical facilities.

While dozens of the workers managed to escape from the Green Rich site in May with the assistance of NGOs and local authorities, the company shows no signs of ending its operations. On the contrary, technicians employed by Green Rich are currently surveying other areas of southwestern Cambodia for further plantation sites. Replication of the Botum Sakor model will certainly result in large-scale environmental degradation and human rights abuses.

The Ministry of Environment, which has approved the Green Rich and other commercial projects in the protected areas it is responsible for safeguarding, claims that the company’s Botum Sakor activities are suspended, pending the firm’s production of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The idea of Green Rich conducting an EIA after already destroying a substantial area of forest in a national park is totally absurd. The whole basis for the company’s presence in Botum Sakor is illegal and its contract should be terminated without delay. On May 31st, Prime Minister Hun Sen highlighted the role of high-ranking officials and other powerful figures in the clearing of Cambodia’s forests. The case of Green Rich is exemplary.

Green Rich is among several industrial projects authorised within protected areas that have recently come to light. Others include schemes to mine metals and minerals, quarry sand, construct dams and roads and build a golf course and theme park complex. They have been either initiated or accelerated over the eleven months that Cambodia has had no recognised government – a period during which the authority of officials to approve such activities is questionable at best. It is worth noting the similar pattern of dubious contracts approved during the post-election political impasse in 1998. Indeed, one of the beneficiaries was Green Rich, to whom Prime Ministers Hun Sen and Ung Huot granted initial approval for a concession of more than 60,000 hectares in Botum Sakor in September of that year.

All the industrial projects awarded in protected areas have been negotiated and signed off in secret. The Ministry of Environment has repeatedly refused to divulge the circumstances under which these deals were brokered and has informed neither the Cambodian public nor the Ministry’s international donors and project partners. The overall appearance is of a hasty cash-in, which benefits a small number of companies and officials at the expense of Cambodia’s natural heritage. The Cambodian authorities should now make a clear public declaration of all industrial projects and economic concessions approved inside protected areas and cancel those that are contrary to the law.

The continued lack of transparency is indicative of the fundamental governance problems obstructing environmental protection and sustainable forest management in Cambodia. Abundant recent evidence shows that mafia-style businesses and corrupt officials are continuing to take advantage of the culture of impunity to loot the forests. This further impoverishes a country still reliant on international donors more inclined to pay the 50% deficit in the national budget than address the corruption that creates it.

Notes to editors:

Global Witness is a London based non-governmental organisation that focuses on the role that natural resources play in funding conflict and facilitating corruption. It alerted the world to the issue of conflict diamonds in 1998 and has since campaigned for controls to counter the problem. Its other campaigns have included successfully disrupting funding to the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia by exposing their multi million dollar illegal trade in timber; working to increase fiscal transparency in the oil trade due its negative impact on regional development and campaigning for targeted timber sanctions against the Liberian logging industry for funding regional conflict and instability.

For further information, please contact gw.monitoring@online.com.kh; telephone 00 855 23 219 478; www.globalwitness.org