Press Release / June 4, 1998

RGC Negotiates 388,500ha Concession Swap Despite Assurances to International Donors

Or Soeurn, Director of Cambodia's Forestry Department, is negotiating the transfer of three timber concessions despite RGC guarantees to the international community that there will be no new concessions or concession swaps.

The Chinese state owned Chinese Marine Container (CMC) company has already surveyed three concessions currently belonging to PT Maharani Resource, Pheapimex-Fuchan-Vanachay Co Ltd and Double Ace Investment Ltd and is intending to build a plywood factory to utilise the already degraded forest in the area.

"It looks like the same old story" said Simon Taylor of Global Witness. "The RGC string along the international community, pay lip service to recommendations crucial to the country's forests and future, while all the time they're trying to make more money on the side tying up yet another deal that will further undermine the country's forests. One has to ask: what does a company that makes sea containers know about forest management?"

The existing concessionaires are pulling out, in the case of Pheapimex-Fuchan-Vanachay and Double Ace, because the high grade timber has already been illegally logged out and they do not possess the processing capacity to deal with timber quality remaining. PT Maharani Resource, allegedly owned by the daughter of former Indonesian President Suharto, cannot operate its concession due to probable financial problems. Only a proportion of its former concession will form part of the new venture. CMC is keen to take over as it is willing to invest in a plywood mill which can utilise the lower grade timber. The recently published ARD Forest Policy Transition Paper warned that by the end of 1998 timber processing factories in Cambodia will have the capacity to process 1.7 million m3 per year. Even at 50% capacity they will need 0.9 million m3 per year, at least 400,000m3 more timber than Cambodia's forests can sustainably produce.

"It's completely outrageous" said Global Witness' Patrick Alley. "Or Soeurn, whose job is to manage Cambodia's forests, is only managing to sell them. We know for a fact that he kept this deal quiet from the donors in several meetings leading up to and on the 22nd May. If the Director of the Forestry Department is going to play by these rules then the ARD report will mean nothing".

Global Witness believes that if the RGC recognise how serious the crisis facing the forestry sector is, and adopt measures to deal with the problems, many of which are outlined in the ARD report, then Cambodia's forests still have a future. "If the RGC ignore the expert advice which they have commissioned, then they are saying to their own population and to the international community 'we don't give a damn about the country's future'", said Taylor. "As a sign of good faith and for the good of the country the RGC should not allow the CMC deal to go ahead".