Press Release / Feb. 6, 1998

Illegal logging poses real threat to democratic process

Fears for the holding of free and fair elections are being compounded by the building of military power bases on both sides of the continuing civil war, funded by logging revenue. Investigations by British environmental and human rights group Global Witness confirm that Khmer Rouge Front 909 returned to war after July’s coup because they lost US$ 30 million (Baht 750 million) worth of logs to the Cambodian government. In a document dated the 13th August 1997 KR General Eam Phan stated that the loss of the timber and the destruction of machinery meant that Front 909 had to make a stand.
In visits to just three provinces in the last week Global Witness investigators have exposed extensive military controlled logging operations.
Further to today’s reports of extensive logging in Ratanakiri Global Witness verify widespread illegal cutting by the military, Global Witness’ Simon Taylor said “We are baffled by Or Soeurn’s denial of problems, we saw chain saws in action two days ago. We will present him with photographs and GPS co-ordinates that prove the military logging is in full swing, with a web of logging roads less than a month old.”
Global Witness visited 21 stockpiles containing approximately 10,000m3 of high grade timber. “The two Prime Ministers recently signed a deal to allow the export of old felled round logs to Vietnam,” said Taylor. “The result is a frenzied effort to cut at least the 15,000m3 of round logs, scheduled for export in March.” The military are cutting in tribal lands and in protected areas including Lomphat Wildlife Sanctuary, believed to be one of the last refuges of one of the world’s rarest animals, the kouprey.
Bokor National Park, only last year worthy of “World Heritage” status, is being carved up by at least five groups from military division 44 and the ex-KR from Phnom Vuor under Mr Chan. The park also continues to be logged by the Longday company with the assistance of soldiers from the Pich Nil jungle training school. “Division 44 operates at least five mobile sawmill villages off the east side of route 4, each village containing at least six saws. This operation is sending hundreds of workers into the park to cut. World Heritage status is worth millions of US dollars annually, which could greatly contribute to development of the region. Instead, the authorities seem intent on pursuing this short-term approach which looks likely to cost them the park for ever.”
“There is a real worry here that the RGC, the donors and most of all, the Cambodian people need to think about. The armed forces are financially independent and call the shots in the areas under their control. Everyone from villagers to provincial governors are afraid to speak out. On top of this the armed resistance, especially the Khmer Rouge under whatever name they choose, are prepared to fight for logging revenue over ideals.” Taylor.
Global Witness believes that political will at the highest level is essential to counter the deforestation of Cambodia. “On 23rd January First Prime Minister Ung Huot visited Ratanakiri and called for the development of sustainable forestry operations, which is great. But it’s not much good when his co-Prime minister signs away the whole of the province to his two favourites, Pheapimex and Teng Bunma - in effect creating a troika of timber exploitation.” Taylor added “Instead of helping the big timber companies Global Witness suggests the co-PMs should listen to the villagers hard hit by illegal logging, and we would welcome the opportunity to fully brief the co-PMs with our information.” Global Witness has repeatedly sought a meeting with Hun Sen.