Immediate release: 26 June 2002
Malaysian Logging Company kicked out of Cambodia.
In March 2002 Global Witness conducted an aerial survey of Malaysian logging company GAT International's forest concession in Kompong Thom Province. The flight showed widespread illegal logging by GAT in violation of the Cambodian government's January 1st 2002 moratorium. A subsequent field inspection carried out by Global Witness and government officials confirmed the aerial findings. On the 16th June 2002 the Cambodian Prime Minister, Samdech Hun Sen, signed a Sub-Decree cancelling both of GAT's concessions.
"This is the first time that the government has cancelled a commercially viable timber concession, and the Prime Minister in particular should be applauded for such decisive action" said Jon Buckrell of Global Witness.
In 1995 corrupt elements at the very highest levels of the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) secretly awarded all of Cambodia's unallocated forest, 35% of Cambodia's total land area, as concessions to logging companies. These companies have been ruthless in their exploitation of political instability, weak government institutions and the forest itself, cutting as much timber as possible as quickly as possible and, more often than not, failing to pay for it. The impunity that these companies have enjoyed lead Global Witness to label them the "Untouchables" in 1999.
"The Cambodian government has set the standard for other countries in the region, blighted by the illegal operations of forest concession companies; if Cambodia can cancel logging deals so can they. If a company as well connected as GAT can be cancelled all the concessionaires are vulnerable" said Buckrell.
The concession system of forest management is not unique to Cambodia. All over the world logging companies, in league with corrupt politicians and civil servants, have taken over vast tracts of land to the detriment of the environment, the countries' economies and the rural poor. More often than not the international donor community either does nothing or, as is the case with the World Bank, actively supports such a damaging state of affairs.
"The World Bank's support for the concession system in Cambodia has been misguided, wrong and entirely detrimental to Cambodians. It appears that the Bank would rather appease a handful of corrupt ministers than make decisions in the forest sector that would actually benefit poor people in the countries where it operates" said Jon Buckrell.
In September 2001 South East Asian countries together with Japan, China, the UK, the USA and the European Union met in Bali for the ministerial level Forest Law Enforcement and Conference. All countries present signed up to what has become known as the Bali Declaration, a blueprint for tackling illegal logging in the region. Malaysia was notable by its absence, at a time when destructive Malaysian logging companies are all pervasive in the industry.
"Forests throughout South East Asia, Africa and Latin America are crawling with Malaysian logging companies. Hopefully the GAT cancellation will cause Malaysia to take stock and start acting responsibly in the international fight against illegal logging and conflict timber" said Buckrell.
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Press Release / June 26, 2002