Press Release / May 27, 1998

Global Witness cautiously welcomes forest report

Global Witness, the British environmental and human rights group, welcomed the findings of the forestry TA projects but expressed doubt about some of the solutions.

"The ARD report has pulled no punches" said Simon Taylor of Global Witness. "It states the severity of the problem, it states who is responsible in all but name, and it states who is suffering at the bottom of the line. No prizes for guessing that the rural population are the ones who are getting no financial benefit from logging and whose livelihoods are being destroyed by it".

The report confirms Global Witness' findings and recommendations over the past three years, and states 'Without immediate and extreme intervention in a comprehensive forest policy implementation and enforcement package by the RGC, the future log supply...from natural forests are in severe jeopardy within five years'.

"This report is really important, the RGC and the donors are going to base the country's future on this." said Patrick Alley of Global Witness. "The bottom line is that Cambodia's leadership and the military are the key to solving the logging problem. It's all very well for Ung Huot to say that the problem is with Cambodia's neighbours, that they are taking the logs, but it's his signature on the documents that permit the exports of timber to Thailand and Vietnam. If this report is to mean anything more than the paper it's written on the RGC really need to act. If they don't then its the Steering Committee all over again. Established by the co-Prime Ministers in mid 1996, met just twice since then and achieved nothing at all".

The report also places great trust in the Cambodia Timber Industry Association (CTIA) and calls for the group's endorsement as 'a group of legitimate...forest sector investors'. "Eight out of fourteen founder members of the CTIA routinely carry out illegal logging, some resorting to physical intimidation and murder. Whilst we appreciate that the cooperation of the timber industry is essential, until these companies cease criminal activity how can they be entrusted with a role crucial to the future of Cambodia's forests? We would invite the CTIA to expel any member involved in illegal logging, for example Pheapimex-Fuchan and Samling, as an act of good faith. Otherwise it's like putting a wolf in charge of a sheep pen. In any event, according to the legal assessment in the report several of these companies could lose their concessions", said Taylor.

Legally the RGC may be able to revoke concessions from companies that are non-performing or operating illegally. "The RGC should take this opportunity to rid Cambodia of companies that are not contributing to Cambodia's future development, but to the destruction of its most valuable natural resource. By revoking Macro-Panin's and Everbright's concessions in favour of Pheapimex-Fuchan, amongst others, the RGC have demonstrated that they are quite capable of this action without any legal excuse".

The report states that the sustainable yield of Cambodia's forests is unlikely to equal the pre-1970 level of 500,000m3 per year. Currently nine times this amount (4.7 million m3) is being cut, not four times as the report states. In addition, the World Bank estimates that the RGC can earn $100 million per year from forestry. "It's important that this kind of information is clarified. Boiling it down the report is in fact saying that the RGC can generate a maximum US$37.5 million per year from forest concessions, based on 500,000m3 per year at the World Bank recommended economic rent of US$75 per m3", said Taylor.

"What the report shows is that if something doesn't happen right now Cambodia is in real trouble. In five years they will have no timber resource and therefore no related taxes, no royalties, no associated infra-structure development, a rural population in real trouble and an ecological disaster. What is obvious is that until the necessary monitoring and concession management systems are in place, all concession activity should stop. There should be no cutting, no exports, nothing. This will cost the RGC around US$12 million, a small investment bearing in mind the consequences", said Alley. "All eyes should now be on the RGC and what action will they take?"