Press Release / March 20, 1998

Co-Prime Ministers sign illegal US$60 million timber deal

On 7th and 11th January 1998 the co-Prime Ministers authorised the export of 178,000m3 of processed timber from the ex-KR stronghold Pailin. Two documents obtained by British environment/human rights group Global Witness permit the export of 73,000m3 and 105,000m3 respectively, but do not specify the date or location of the export, the recipient company or the grade of timber. "These deals are so vague they are effectively a blank cheque from the Prime Ministers to Ieng Sary" said Global Witness' Patrick Alley. "They can be used again and again, indefinitely." Global Witness does not think the exports have taken place yet.

The disclosure of the deal coincides with the visit to Phnom Penh of Ms Ngozi, the World Bank Director of the East Asia and Pacific region, who will meet senior RGC officials to discuss forestry issues and the progress of the Bank funded TA Projects. "Ms Ngozi is going to have to get some kind of real commitment from the RGC to enforce forestry legislation, or the World Bank funded projects are wasting their time" said Alley.

The export documents stipulate that only old felled logs can be processed and that tax must be paid, but these conditions are unlikely to be followed. "The Pailin area is still effectively autonomous. The Forestry Department have no authority in the whole of Battambang, let alone in Pailin - and as no one knows where and when the exports will take place no one can monitor them so no one can tell the Ministry of Finance how much tax to charge," said Simon Taylor of Global Witness. There are approximately 70,000m3 of old illegally felled logs in Pailin, but 178,000m3 of processed timber requires over 300,000m3 of logs. Furthermore, there simply isn't the capacity to process this amount of timber in Pailin, giving rise to the risk of log exports.

The deals also show that despite Ung Huot's publicly stated concerns over deforestation his signature has adorned at least three illegal export authorisations totalling 210,000m3, worth a minimum US$73.5 million, over the last five months.