Press Release / Dec. 14, 1998

Vietnam legitimises plunder of Cambodia's forests

Despite regional and international concerns and contrary to their public statements Vietnam is not only allowing imports of Cambodian timber but is encouraging the re-export of both logs and sawn wood. On 28th July 1998 Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed document no. 861/CP/KTTHJ permitting the state forestry company Vinafor to re-export Cambodian and Laotian timber “surplus to domestic needs”.

"It is ironic that with so much talk of regional cooperation surrounding the ASEAN summit on 14th and 15th December, right now Vietnamese loggers are illegally felling trees in Cambodia with the full sanction of the Vietnamese Government. Rather than cooperation it smacks of exploitation", said Patrick Alley of Global Witness. "We know that Hun Sen and his Vietnamese counterparts signed timber deals in late 1997. We really hope that the numerous recent statements out of Phnom Penh talking of a crackdown on the log trade really mean something. The RGC has taken some positive measures but we're in the lead up to a CG meeting now, which is the traditional promise season".

In September 1998 Global Witness saw 350 log rafts on the Mekong carrying a minimum 31,000m3 of logs, much of which was destined for Vietnam. Vietnamese loggers are already working in Ratanakiri province, indicating that large scale land exports will take place in the 1998/99 dry season. These figures come on top of the minimum 260,000m3 of Cambodian logs illegally felled and exported to Vietnam in 1997 and early 1998.

Since February 1998 Global Witness has investigated the (minimum) US$70 million annual export of Vietnamese manufactured garden furniture to Europe. According to Vietnamese policy manufacturers can only use imported timber, which originates from Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Malaysian and Indonesia.

"Since the July 1997 coup Vietnam, with the go ahead from Cambodian Prime Ministers Hun Sen, Ung Huot and Military Region 1, appears to regard eastern Cambodia as its own property and absolutely advocates the import of Cambodian logs", said Global Witness' Simon Taylor. "This means that Cambodia's resources are being ravaged on an unprecedented scale".

Documents obtained by Global Witness showed that Cambodia's Military Region 1, already devoting much of its time to logging, has established an Economic Development Committee to raise revenue. "Against the laws and constitution of Cambodia MR1 has simply formalised what it, and virtually every other Military Region has been doing for the past few years" said Global Witness' Simon Taylor. "Its a corporation with guns".

According to the World Bank Cambodia's forests will be commercially logged out by 2003, within the life of the current administration. "If Hun Sen allows this to happen he won't be able to afford to fight the next election - unless he finds something else to trade in", said Taylor.