Press Release / March 3, 1997

A conspiracy of silence? Global Witness' new report casts doubt on RTG and RGC timber claims.

Damning evidence in Global Witness' report "Tug of War - The Struggle to Protect Cambodia's Forests" published 2nd March 1997, details a conspiracy of silence between the Thai timber companies, the Thai Government (RTG) and the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) over imports of large amounts of logs imported into Thailand during December 1997.

"None of the logs were legal, with the exception of a few thousand cubic metres of dubious legality from BLP, because none of the companies which imported logs into Trat and Chantaburi had contracts with the RGC." Said Simon Taylor of Global Witness.
It is inconceivable that the RTG did not know this, as normally such documents would be provided to the National Security Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Thai-Cambodia Border Commission. Yet these Ministries have said nothing.

These timber companies were doing business with the genocidal Khmer Rouge, until the guerillas defected to the RGC, during August to October 19996. Three Thai timber companies still operate within hardline KR territory opposite Sisaket Province.

"It is simply outrageous that the timber companies are claiming that they have legal rights to timber remaining in Cambodia, when so far they have completely failed to prove their case. They are putting at risk international relations between Thailand and Cambodia and yet not one company has actually produced a contract, let alone named which RGC official they did 'business' with. If the deals are legal why are all the companies so shifty?" Said Patrick Alley of Global Witness. "Furthermore senior Thai officials and politicians, including the Interior Minister Sanoh Thienthong, and the Deputy Interior Minister Chaipak Siriwat, are on record saying they will take up the issue. Is it normal for such people to protect the interests of companies that operate illegally? Or could some of the politicians and officials have longstanding links with the trade? The RTG should ensure that the contracts are made public."

It is time for Prime Minister Chavalit to end this conspiracy of silence and respond to the avalanche of Thai press criticism of past and present RTG's (remembering that he held senior posts in the previous administration!) policies. He should clarify the involvement of all government officials in the logging business, and provide the minutes of his meeting with the RGC Minister Agriculture held on the 13th May 1996 and any other relevant meetings. He should also provide details of the letter, dated 14th June, from the co-Prime Ministers to Banharn, which clearly stipulates the 31st December deadline; this letter directly contradicts RTG claims that they did not know of the deadline until much later in the year.

The 20th March meeting, to be held in Chiang Mai, to discuss Thai/ Cambodian relations is the opportunity for both countries to reaffirm their commitments to keeping the border closed to logs.