Illegal Logging in Mondulkiri – a Test Case for Forest Sector Law Enforcement
Global Witness investigations have uncovered a major illegal logging operation in Mondulkiri province orchestrated by well-connected timber dealer Yeay Chhun.1
Between July 2003 and March this year, Yeay Chhun organised the logging of more than a hundred grade one and two trees in protection forest in O’Rove, Mondulkiri. In March, her workers bulldozed 30km of new road through forest northwest of O’Reang district capital to enable extraction of the logs to her sawmill. These activities stand in clear contravention of the moratoria on cutting and transportation of round logs, as well as several provisions of the 2002 Forestry Law.
The scale of these activities, and the fact that they were allowed to continue uninterrupted in and around the district capital over several months, strongly suggests complicity on the part of the local authorities. In particular, questions must raised regarding the role of Mondulkiri Deputy Governor Kouy Khun Hour, who has chosen to authorise continued log processing by Yeay Chhun’s sawmill two years into a ban on commercial harvesting.
“Yeay Chhun is the architect of many of the recent illegal timber deals in Mondulkiri and Kratie”, said Mike Davis of Global Witness. “The evidence is clear and the case for prosecution now quite overwhelming.”
Recent action by Forest Administration officials to confiscate logs felled by Yeay Chhun’s workers in O’Reang district is encouraging. However, this is no substitute for a full investigation and prosecution of Yeay Chhun herself. Failure to follow due legal process would make a mockery of the Forestry Law and further entrench the existing culture of impunity.
The operations in O’Reang form part of Yeay Chhun’s wide portfolio of illegal activities. Others include logging in Snuol Wildlife Santuary, Kratie province and illegal transportation of sawn timber. The findings of three recent Global Witness investigations into Yeay Chhun’s activities are set out below.
1. Yeay Chhun’s full name is Sean Leang Chhun. She is also known by the name E Chhun.
Yeay Chhun: Forest Crime in Kratie and Mondulkiri – Three Recent Cases
1. Illegal logging and processing in O’Reang district, Mondulkiri province
Between July 2003 and March 2004, Yeay Chhun employed loggers to undertake illegal harvesting of trees in the O’Rove forest, north west O’Reang district capital, Mondulkiri, inside an area designated as protection forest. This operation targeted grade one Koki timber, as well as grade two trees, and local inhabitants report over a hundred trees being cut. In April 2004, stumps of at least 30 recently felled Koki trees were inspected around UTM 723 334 1375482.
In early March 2004, Yeay Chhun’s workers used heavy machinery to bulldoze a road from a location near Pu Hyam village, O’Reang district, approximately 30km north west into O’Rove forest, to facilitate extraction of the timber. Upon completion of the road in mid March, Yeay Chhun began using two tractors and two trucks to haul the logs out of the forest and then transport them to her sawmill in O’Reang district capital. Each truck carried loads of between three and six logs and was making either one or two trips into the forest each day up until the second week of April. These activities stand in clear contravention of the moratoria on cutting and transportation of round logs, as well as several provisions of the 2002 Forestry Law.
From Yeay Chhun’s sawmill, the logs have either been processed into sawn timber, or transported on to locations closer to Phnom Penh, purportedly for the construction of racing boats for pagodas. In this regard it is important to note that in a number of other recent cases, the supposed provision of Koki logs to pagodas in Prey Veng and Kandal provinces has provided a pretext for illegal logging. In several instances, representatives of high-ranking Government officials have persuaded monks to sign requests for logs. Once cut, however, the Koki logs have often been sold to timber traders, with the monks left empty-handed.
The main pretext for Yeay Chhun’s logging operation in Mondulkiri is ‘old log collection’. ‘Old log collection’ was the device most commonly used by illegal loggers during the late 1990s. Under this system, companies, military personnel and others would claim to have discovered quantities of old logs in the forest and request official permission to collect them. Upon receiving approval, they would log new areas and then extract the fresh-cut logs, claiming that they were ‘old’. In 1998, the World Bank estimated that ‘old log collection’ was the cause of 95% of illegal logging in Cambodia. In recognition of the gravity of the problem, Prime Minister Hun Sen prohibited the further issuing of ‘old log collection’ permits in January 1999, as part of his Declaration Number One on forest sector reform.
Despite the Prime Ministerial injunction on ‘old log collection’, in July 2001 Mondulkiri Department of Forestry and Fisheries officials admitted that they had sold to Yeay Chhun the rights to collect a quantity of old logs which they said had been felled illegally and then confiscated. Disposal of confiscated timber is required to take the form of a public auction, which in this instance did not happen. DAFF and other provincial officials reported that the old logs were scattered across a broad area of forest encompassing parts of O’Reang, Pichreada and Sen Monorom districts in Mondulkiri. In August 2002, FA and provincial officials permitted Yeay Chhun to establish temporarily a sawmill in O’Reang district, supposedly to process her old logs.
In line with well-established practice, Yeay Chhun proceeded to use ‘old log collection’ as cover for a large-scale illegal logging and processing. With the assistance of Mondulkiri Deputy Governor Khouy Khun Hour, moreover, she has succeeded in turning what was styled as a temporary operation into something rather more long-term. On 10th February 2004, Khuoy Khun Huor wrote to the district chiefs of O’Reang and Pichreada districts to inform them that he had extended permission for Yeay Chhun’s sawmill operations by a further six months, effective from 1st February. The explanation given was that Yeay Chhun required more time to complete her timber processing activities.
Yeay Chhun has acquired a range of additional documentation in order to give her operations an appearance of legitimacy. These include letters sent by a certain Okhna Louv Hing to Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany, requesting permission to obtain 30 cubic metres of luxury wood to build a house and six Koki logs to donate to pagodas for racing boat construction. Luxury tree species are protected by law, while felling of Koki logs is illegal under the terms of the 2002 moratorium on logging. Yeay Chhun presents herself as Okhna Louv Hing’s representative, and has obtained documents signed by Kouy Khun Hour and Mondulkiri provincial Department of Agriculture official Chan Chesda requesting that local authorities co-operate in her efforts to buy timber. The purchase of wood outlined in these letters bears no relation to Yeay Chhun’s illegal harvesting of over a hundred trees. However, it does provide further evidence of her capacity to obtain from officials, letters and permits that purport to authorise activities that are in fact contrary to the law.
2. Illegal Logging and Transportation Activities in Snuol District, Kratie Province
In early April 2004, loggers hired by military, military police and police personnel felled at least 40 grade one and grade two trees in forest in Srai Chas and Snuol communes, Snuol District in order to to sell the timber to Yeay Chhun. The wood was processed into planks and stored near the rubber plantation in O’Tahnean village and in Ror Har village, Srai Chas commune. Workers were observed loading approximately 150 cubic metres of timber into four trucks. They confirmed that the timber belonged to Yeay Chhun. The registration plates of three of the trucks were as follows:
Khor Mor 0.5634 (truck registered to Royal Cambodian Armed Forces)
Khor Mor 0.5635 (truck registered to Royal Cambodian Armed Forces)
2392 Phor Por 3
On 10th April, the four trucks in Srai Chas commune joined four others being used by Yeay Chhun to transport timber from other locations in Snuol and Keo Seima district, Mondulkiri province. Each of these was carrying approximately 30-35 cubic metres of sawn timber. The weight of the vehicles caused the collapse of a steel bridge at O’Phos, Snuol district, as one of the trucks drove across it. No punitive action has been taken against Yeay Chhun for the damage caused, although local officials have since claimed that she has hired members of a military engineering brigade to repair the bridge.
3. Illegal Logging and Transportation Activities in Snuol Wildlife Sanctuary, Kratie Province
In February, Yeay Chhun commissioned soldiers of Battalion 204 to carry out an illegal logging operation inside Snuol Wildlife Sanctuary. Soldiers cut the timber during late February and early March, in collaboration with members of the district military police.
The stumps of around 70 grade one Sralao and Sokrom trees felled during this logging operation were observed at the following sites within the wildlife sanctuary.
UTM 671386 1343992
UTM 671023 1344513
UTM 671263 1345902
In the week beginning 22nd March, Yeay Chhun despatched one of her trucks to Snuol Wildlife Sanctuary to collect the wood, which the soldiers had by this point processed into sawn timber. While the vehicle was parked in the forest for loading, its presence was reported to local authorities, who inspected it on 25th March. On the evening of 27th March, the truck was seized by soldiers from Battalion 204, under the command of Mr Main Ngin, who took it to the Battalion 204 compound at UTM 659868 1331282. Later that night the vehicle was collected from the battalion 204 base by Yeay Chhun and her staff, who then drove it in the direction of Kompong Cham province, as part of a convoy of seven trucks, each carrying around 30-35 cubic metres of sawn timber.
Yeay Chhun’s workers claimed that these activities were authorised by a transport permit from the Forest Administration dated 27th March. This document allows the transportation of 90 cubic metres of sawn timber from a sawmill in Keo Seima district, Mondulkiri, to a timber shop in Kompong Trabek district in Prey Veng. Quite apart from the fact that cutting timber in a wildlife sanctuary is illegal, eyewitness accounts indicate that Yeay Chhun’s seven truck convoy was carrying in excess of 210 cubic metres of sawn timber: more than double the quantity authorised by the permit.
The permit used by Yeay Chhun grants permission to transport wood to Henry Kong, the former Forest Operations Manager in Cambodia for Samling logging company, which previously operated a logging concession in Kratie and Mondulkiri provinces. That Samling has now ceased operations in Cambodia and posted Henry Kong to Guyana indicates that the permit was fraudulently obtained. The status of Samling is well known to the two Forest Administration Deputy Directors, Chea Sam Ang and Chheng Kim Sun, who signed the permit. Their decision to authorise this transaction requires an explanation. Article 101 of the 2002 Forestry Law states that the authorisation by Forest Administration officials of activities contrary to the Law is an offence which shall incur a prison sentence of one to five years and a fine of ten to one hundred million riel.