In what may be its last reports as the government’s environmental watchdog, Global Witness says commercial logging has resumed in Kompong Thom province in defiance of a 15-month-old moratorium.
Investigators found freshly cut trees, operating sawmills and a covert system of transporting the logs by oxcart rather than logging truck to avoid detection, the reports charge. Most of the activity appears to be in forests that before the moratorium were logged by the Grand Atlantic Timber International of Malaysia and Colexim logging companies. Additional evidence of logging was found near the Tumring commune rubber plantation, the report said.
“There’s large-scale logging going on inside concessions,” said Global Witness country director Eva Galabru.
A government official said the reports were studied and some kind of enforcement was carried out. “The government sent three teams to investigate,” said Council of Ministers official Hong Narith. “They verified the reports and took action to crack down on illegal logging,” he said.
Hong Narith said he had been given only a brief report on the government’s enforcement. He said he did not know exactly what had been done in response to the evidence of logging or whether any criminal charges had been filed.
A man who answered the phone of Ty Sokhun, director of the Department of Forestry in the Ministry of Agriculture, did not respond to a reporter’s questions on Friday.
The latest reports come as the government prepares to terminate its relationship with Global Witness, which for the last four years has been charged with independently investigating forest crimes and reporting them to the government.
The relationship has never been an easy one. It finally broke down after a villagers’ protest at the Department of Forestry in December during which several protestors were injured by baton-wielding riot police.
Ty Sokhun at the time blamed Global Witness for the violence, saying the environmental watchdog orchestrated the protest and should be held accountable for the confrontations between villagers and police that ensued.
After Ty Sokhun recommended to Prime Minister Hun Sen that Global Witness be fired as environmental monitor, the UK-based group was given three months to finish its work. Its last day is April 22.
The government six weeks ago dropped a lawsuit against Galabru that accused her of spreading misinformation and inciting criminal activity, but government officials said they would have won if it had gone to court.
The latest Global Witness reports, issued Feb 19, Feb 22 and Feb 26, were sent to the working group on natural resources management chaired by UN Food and Agricultural Organization country representative Jean-Claude LeVasseur and Asian Development Bank country representative Urooj Malik. They were then forwarded to the Ministry of Agriculture for enforcement.
In the reports Global Witness charges that freshly cut timber was found at a Colexim sawmill that had been subcontracted to man identified as Chea Hang: “The sawmill owner claimed the sawmill was inactive, there were however multiple indicators that the sawmill was being supplied in illegal logs from the former GAT concession by well coordinated and organized units of ‘oxcarts.’”
Trucks were also seen returning from nightly treks to the Kingwood Factory in Prek Anchang, Muk Kampul district, Kandal province, the report said. Drivers said they were ferrying logs from the area around the rubber plantation in Tumring commune, Sandan district, Kompong Thom.
A series of trees delivered by oxcart were delivered to sawmills along the road from the Baksnar logging camp to Kompong Thmar; some 50 carts were seen leaving a logging area at dusk and another 30 carts were seen returning to the forest, Global Witness charged.
Flights over the Colexim and Mieng Ly Heng concession areas also found more evidence of recent logging, including active clearing of forest lands and conversion of the forest land into plantations and farms, Global Witness officials said.