Global Witness has documented illegal logging by the Malaysian logging company GAT International for several years but until now the government has failed to take any effective action. However, recent reports by Global Witness that GAT was logging in violation of the January 1st logging moratorium, and unprecedented pressure by the international donor community in the run up to last week's Consultative Group meeting, forced the government to act. In a move that was long overdue the Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen signed a Sub-Decree on the 16th of June 2002 cancelling GAT's two forest 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.
It remains unclear what additional action the government will take against the company, its owners, directors and subcontractors or what will happen to GAT's two processing facilities.
"Cancellation should be viewed as a first step. The government should also bar GAT's owners and directors from any future involvement Cambodia's forest industry and close GAT's factories with immediate effect." said Jon Buckrell.
GAT, however, is not the only company found logging in violation of the moratorium. Global Witness investigations in March and April 2002 have shown evidence of illegal logging by the Pheapimex company in its Kompong Thom concession. Cheung Sopheap the director of Pheapimex has close connections to the very highest levels of Cambodian government.
"By cancelling GAT the Prime Minister sent a clear message to the donors that the government still needs their money. By cancelling Pheapimex, and other such pestilent companies, he would be sending a clear message illegal logging is no longer acceptable." said Buckrell.
The government has not indicated what will happen to the cancelled concessions but reallocation to another company would be contrary to current government policy. Point 6 of the Prime Minister's 25th January 1999, 17 Point Declaration states that "cancelled forest concessions must be reserved as protected areas or classified forests and will not be granted to any future forestry concessions."
"Only the World Bank and a handful of corrupt politicians, whose relatives run these logging companies, have any faith in the concession system. It is essential that these forest are not reallocated."
The dual cancellation is also significant given the location of the concessions, one in the proposed protected area of the central Cardamom Mountains and the other in the Prey Long forest in Kompong Thom Province. Prey Long is an area of outstanding conservation value and heavily relied upon by Cambodia's rural poor for non timber forest products especially resin.
"The GAT's cancellation was greeted with jubilation by people living in and around the concession. It is essential that the government lets these communities manage and protect this forest area for future generations." said Buckrell.
Global Witness, PO Box 6042, London N19 5WP, UK
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Press Release / June 25, 2002