sandan district, Kompong Thom province – Standing at the treeline along a freshly clear-cut swath that is Tumring rubber plantation, one might expect to be standing on the plantation’s property line.
But according to the global positioning system and a map delineating Tumring’s borders, one should be standing 300 meters deep in the forest neighboring the plantation.
In Horn, vice chief of the Chhup Rubber Plantation Co’s operations at Tumring, confirmed the obvious expansion on Sunday. The plantation will cover 6,200 hectares of rich red soil, courtesy of the Colexim and Mieng Ly Eng logging companies, he said.
Asked about the clear-cutting outside the plantation’s boundaries, though, In Horn replied, “I don’t know.”
In Horn explained that the vast size of the operation prevented him from staying abreast of everything happening at Tumring. “On the other hand, I’m not supposed to know too many things,” he said.
The forestry law, which has been in effect for about one year, requires that forestry concession boundaries are marked, Marcus Hardtke, a logging monitor, said Sunday.
“But they aren’t demarcated because the [logging companies] don’t want them to be,” said Eva Galabru, the former country director of Cambodia’s former official logging monitor, London-based Global Witness.
A popular loophole is to call the area being logged a land concession, something a rubber plantation qualifies for, Cambodia’s logging observers have complained.
Hardtke and Galabru estimated that at least 15 to 20 hectares had been illegally cut by the logging companies here along one of Tumring’s eastern borders.
They said they had seen the same along Tumring’s southern and western borders, but not yet to the north.
The government claimed to have fired Global Witness from the position of independent monitor on April 22, calling it an “extremist group” that damaged Cambodia’s relations with donors.
But Global Witness continued its monitoring efforts until the end of July, when its three-year contract with the government expired. The organization will remain in Cambodia to continue its campaign for a lawful and sustainable logging industry, but without any special relationship with the government and without Galabru.
Galabru’s and Hardtke’s current professional affiliations are unclear, but they have continued looking for forest crimes.
“Five hundred fifty meters,” said Hardtke, looking at his hand-held GPS device and noting a resin tree stump’s distance from the plantation.
Having continued on from the clear cut, down muddy oxcart trails and even some heavy machinery tread tracks, Galabru and Hardtke found fresh logging sites, one after another, until night fell.
Many of the nearly 20 remaining stumps, blackened by fire and sticky with sap, indicated that the trees felled had been resin producing, and once a primary source of revenue for locals here.
In Chhan, a resident of Ronteah village in Tumring commune, said Sunday he was angry about resin trees being cut. His family relied on the resin trees for a living up until four or five years ago, when they disappeared, he said.
A letter dated June 30 from the Working Group on Natural Resources management—donor representatives who have quietly pushed for logging reform—to the Minister of Agriculture addressed developments at Tumring it classified as “troubling.”
Due to no prior analysis, “land clearance has run ahead of replanting, leaving large areas bare and exposed to erosion, communities have been displaced and lost their established livelihoods…and there are other problems…that we believe threaten the viability of the entire endeavor,” the letter stated.
Further down: “We are aware…that illegal and uncontrolled log shipment is taking place, including from in and around the Tumring area.”
A Mrs Seng Keang is listed on a Department of Forestry and Wildlife document dated Feb 19, 2003 as the owner of illegally cut logs to be confiscated from Tumring.
Seng Keang is the wife of Dy Choch, and Dy Choch is the son of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s mother’s brother, numerous sources in the area have told Galabru.
He is also the brother of Dy Phen, the military police commander of Kompong Thom province, she said.
A man known as Mr 95 is Dy Choch’s brother-in-law and handles much of Dy Choch’s public relations. “People in and around the area and in the industry have made it clear that Mr 95 is in charge. He is the brother of Seng Keang, and it was pointed out to us that he had threatened people in the area,” Galabru said Monday.
Pol Kham Nare, director of the Kompong Thom forestry office, said Monday, “The Ministry of Agriculture has licensed Mrs Seng Keang to collect cut trees for firewood since late 2002.”
Pol Kham Nare said he did not know anything about Seng Keang’s family.
Forestry Department Director Ty Sokun said Sunday that he did not know of anyone by the name Dy Choch or Seng Keang.
He also said, “There is no log transportation. Some people use wood as firewood.”
“If there are [resin trees] cut outside the plantation, we will crack down on it. There is no log exploitation business. There could be some clearing for farms,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Van Roeun)