Investigators from Global Witness, the UK based human rights and environment group(1) have uncovered detailed evidence which proves that there has been collusion at the highest levels between political and military leaders in Cambodia and Vietnam over massive and illegal timber deals.
“We have seen stockpiles totalling 260,000m3 of illegally exported Cambodian logs, worth US£130 million(2), which represents approximately one third of Cambodia’s National Budget which are stored in Gialai and Song Bé Provinces,at Qui Nhon Port and by the Saigon River near Saigon.” Said Patrick Alley of Global Witness. A further 35 - 50,000m3 of logs are also due to be imported from late February onwards.
Global Witness is calling on the Vietnamese Government to take immediate action to halt these illegal imports. “This trade is illegal, the logging is highly destructive and wasteful, none of the money will go to the Cambodian Treasury, and most dangerously it will fund the military and political parties, predominantly the Cambodian Peoples Party (CPP), in the lead up to the election (3)” Said Alley “This illegal funding, will without doubt effect the outcome of the forthcoming election as it will give an unfair advantage to the CPP and so we believe it is incumbent upon the international community to take action also.” The illegal logging is destroying the forest, and having a very detrimental impact upon hilltribes and local villagers.
Stockpiles in the town of Pleiku, Kontum, in Qui Nhon and near Saigon were documented by Global Witness investigators. “In Pleiku for example, we saw and filmed over 30 stockpiles totalling 150,000m3 and valued at US$75 million.” Said Alley “A trade of this size, which is flouting the laws of two countries, is the result of corruption and collusion at the highest level in both countries.” A large part of this province, where it borders Cambodia, is under the control of the military, who are active in storing logs in this area.
Global Witness have identified a ‘Mr Big’ whose name is Mr Sinh, he is a senior official in the Gialai People’s Committee and is director of Ltd. Company 30-4 which may well be linked to this Committee. In addition to this, according to reliable sources(4), he has obtained permission to export 3,000m3 of logs from Qui Nhon port, contrary to Vietnam’s log export ban, and it points to high level political connections.
The trade is illegal because Cambodian legislation banned the export of logs on 31st December 1996, and there is Vietnamese legislation which makes the import of Cambodian logs illegal (5) which dates from 31st January 1997, however the Vietnamese Prime Minister signed a Decision which came into force on 9 January 1998 which seems to permit the export of timber at his discretion(6). Global Witness believes this was issued to give quasi-legality to logs which are being exported from Cambodia under the cover of ad hoc and secretly issued documents by the Co-Prime Ministers. It should be noted that most of the logs seen by investigators had been imported before the Decision came into effect. The majority of the logs will be turned into furniture and building materials and much of it will be sold on to countries such as the USA, Japan, the UK, Netherlands, France, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, Italy, Australia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Notes: 1. Global Witness is a UK based campaigning group focusing on areas where environmental exploitation causes human rights abuses and funds conflict. It has no political affiliations.
2. This is based on the price, US$500 per cubic metre, given by Vinafor, the Vietnamese Forest Products Corporation, the parastatel that deals with all timber related matters.
3. The date of the election has been set for July 1998.
4. Reliable sources include a Vietnamese state enterprise.
5. “Vietnam firmly respects Cambodia’s [forestry] policy...and has advised all provinces and competent authorities to carry out the Vietnamese Prime Minister’s order to ban logging exports from Cambodia on December 31st 1996.” - An extract from the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture on 31st January 1997.
6. The Decision of the Prime Minister on Exporting Wood, Forestry Products and Importing Wood of Raw Materials which states “All log sources to be imported from Cambodia should be carried out according to the Prime Minister’s specific instructions.” This was signed by the Prime Minister on 25th December 1997.
Press Release / Feb. 26, 1998