The Cambodian Ministry of Environment has announced that it is preparing a legal action against Green Elite, a subsidiary of Asia Pulp and Paper company (APP) which has been illegally logging Botum Sakor National Park for the past nine months. Global Witness offers its full support to the Ministry’s efforts to uphold Cambodian law and curb the predations of one of Asia’s most notorious pulp companies.
“Global Witness wholeheartedly congratulates Minister of Environment Mok Mareth on this decisive move” said Mike Davis of Global Witness. “If followed through, this would be a crucial first step towards terminating the recent rash of illegal economic concessions that threaten Cambodia’s protected area system. We strongly urge other government ministries, the international donor community and NGOs to support the Minister’s action.”
APP/Green Elite began cutting in Botum Sakor in March 2004, with the stated intention of transforming large areas of the national park into acacia tree plantations. Statements by APP indicate that these plantations are designed to feed pulp mills in China. Thus far, the company has already clear-felled several hundred hectares of rear-mangrove Melaleuca forest, installed wood chipping machinery and also bulldozed a new road into the national park. APP/Green Elite’s concession contract and its activities contravene a range of Cambodian laws, including the 1994 Declaration on Protected Areas, the 2002 Forestry Law, the 2001 Land Law and the 1999 Sub-Decree on Environmental Impact Assessment.
The Ministry of Environment has chosen to target its legal action on APP/Green Elite’s failure to comply with legal requirements for environmental impact assessment and a related suspension order issued to the company in May. While not necessarily the most serious of APP/Green Elite’s infractions, the evidence against the firm on this count is compelling.
“Given the range of laws that APP/Green Elite has broken, the Ministry must have faced a difficult choice as to which offence to prosecute them for first,” said Mike Davis. “This is an open and shut case. If due legal process is followed, the verdict cannot be in doubt.”
APP/Green Elite’s demolition of Botum Sakor National Park is a modest first step in its plans to turn natural forests across Cambodia’s southwest into pulp. In addition to its illegal contract to create a plantation on 18,000 hectares of Botum Sakor, APP/Green Elite has also asked the government for an additional 300,000 hectare concession across Koh Kong and Kampot provinces – an area 30 times the legal limit. Much of this land falls within protected areas and represents a valuable part of Cambodia’s natural heritage that will be lost if the deal goes ahead.
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Notes to editors:
· Asia Pulp and Paper is an Indonesian-owned company well known for its destruction of natural forests in Sumatra. APP does not hesitate to use strong-arm tactics to silence its critics. The firm is currently launching a legal suit against a Chinese hotel association, ZHA, which advised its members against purchasing APP products following allegations that APP was using illegally sourced timber at its production facility in China. For further information, please refer to www.appwatch.blogspot.com.
· Illegal concession contracts signed off by senior officials pose one of the main threats to Cambodia’s protected areas. The illegal APP/Green Elite contract is one of several such concession agreements covering protected areas that have come to light in 2004. Such deals are indicative of the corruption, lack of transparency and overall weak governance that characterises management of Cambodia’s natural resources. At the Consultative Group meeting of 6-7 December, recognition of the extent of the problem prompted international donors and the Cambodian government to agree the disclosure of all concessions to exploit land and natural resources, as summarised in the following performance benchmarks for 2005:
Ø Increase transparency of state management of natural resources through immediate public disclosure of existing contracts and compliance status (royalties and other key provisions) of contracts governing economic land concessions, mining concessions, fishing lots and continued disclosure of status of review of forest concessions
Ø Application of sustainable management planning, including ESIAs, investor evaluations, consultation with local communities, public disclosure and comment period prior to entering into new contracts for private use/management of state managed natural resources (land, fisheries, forestry, and mines)
Ø Royal Government of Cambodia disclose the location and legal status and process for termination of mining concessions, Military Development Zones, economic land concession and other development arrangements situated on forest land or in protected areas and inconsistent with law governing management of these areas
· The legal requirements for environmental impact assessment on projects in Cambodia are set out in the 1996 Law on Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management and the 1999 Sub-Decree on Environmental Impact Assessment. However these laws are rarely if ever observed. Action by officials to ensure their enforcement and the punishment of offenders is almost unprecedented.
Press Release / Dec. 31, 2004