Press Release / March 11, 1999

Illegal log exports to Laos continue

Large scale illegal log exports to Laos, which were halted in July 1998 as a result of Global Witness’ pressure have resumed, despite Cambodia's commitment to crack down on illegal logging at the Tokyo CG meeting.

Thailand reopened its Chong Mek border pass to illegal Cambodian log imports by February 1999, initially taking logs from the massive Ban sa'at stockpile, 30km south of Paxse. These logs were stranded when Thai PM Chuan Leekpai closed the border in mid 1998. These imports have stimulated new exports from Siem Pang district in Stung Treng province. Logs were also observed heading towards Vietnam. On 12th February 25 log trucks were observed waiting to cross the Mekong at Paxse, a further 25 were waiting at the Chong Mek border point with additional vehicles moving logs between Chong mek and Ubon Ratchathani. The Lao authorities are charging the loggers $50 per m3 to allow transportation of Cambodian logs. Logs from another stockpile at Tauak village in Khong District are being bought by Lao businessmen ($220-230/m3 for No.1 wood; $85/m3 for No.2), processed at the Bun Thiavy sawmill in Khinak village and exported to Thailand as sawn timber.

"This is a really serious threat to Hun Sen's 6th January crackdown," said Patrick Alley of Global Witness. All three of Cambodia's neighbours are ignoring their public commitments to cooperate with the 31st December 1996 log export ban, although Thailand and Vietnam will undoubtedly claim these are Laotian logs. We want to put it on public record that this is not the case. Fresh cut logs are crossing the border from Siem Pang district to Khong District in Laos now. The RGC and the donor community have to put the strongest pressure on Vietnam, Laos and Thailand to support Cambodia's log export ban. If Cambodia's neighbours are undermining foreign aid efforts in Cambodia, why should the international community continue to pour aid into these countries?".

These exports are part of a 1998 arrangement between Cambodia's notorious Military Region 1 (MR1), Thai logger Pipat Forestry and the equally notorious Pheapimex-Fuchan. "We're giving the RGC the benefit of the doubt," said Global Witness' Simon Taylor. "We assume that MR1 are going it alone on this one, despite Hun Sen's much welcomed and long overdue removal of MR1 leaders Major General Seuy Keo and Brigadier Nuon Phea. Hun Sen needs to show his own government, people and the donors that his commitments at the CG were serious. These exports have to stop and Pheapimex should have their concessions terminated; they're taking Cambodia for a ride which could lose the country its donor support".

At the Tokyo CG meeting Cambodia's donors including the World Bank and the IMF made it clear that if the RGC failed to achieve its pledges, then aid would not be disbursed. "On 13th February Rasmei Kampuchea reported that 3,000m3 of No.1 timber were taken by the Vietnamese directly out of Virachey national park with a further 10,000m3 set to go, all under the auspices of Ratanakiri police chief Kam Koeurn. With this deal and the exports to Laos, the RGC are sailing close to the wind. If the donors take these issues up at the quarterly monitoring meetings agreed at the CG it could mean prevention of aid disbursements", said Alley.