A hotel boom in Cambodia’s cultural capital, Siem Reap, is fueling the destruction of some of its prime forest, forestry officials and environmentalists said this week.
Foresters said they have recently cracked down on illegal timber coming into Siem Reap, but the trade continues as hotels under construction demand high-quality wood for furniture and decoration, said Pol Kham Nare, deputy chief of the Forestry Administration’s Northern Tonle Sap Inspectorate.
“The transportation of timber along several routes seems to have increased despite the crackdown. The timber is for producing furniture for hotels,” he said Monday.
It has been illegal to log in Cambodia since Prime Minister Hun Sen banned the practice at the end of 2001. Cutting of rare luxury tree species, the high-quality trees prized for furniture and fittings, has been illegal for decades. Still, most hotels throughout the country boast extensive furnishings with the luxury wood.
Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun admits the timber trade is going strong.
“Good quality timber is secretly transported to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh for decorating hotels or new houses,” Chan Sarun said Tuesday.
There are 27 hotels under construction in Siem Reap, some 3,500 rooms, which will nearly double the tourist town’s current capacity of 3,900 rooms at
65 hotels, said Kim Chhai Kieng, deputy director of the Siem Reap tourism department.
The fact that hotels consume a lot of the country’s illegally cut timber is nothing new, said Marcus Hardtke of forestry watchdog Global Witness.
“In Siem Reap and Oddar Meanchey, fresh logging of luxury timber is ongoing,” Hardtke said Wednesday.
According to Global Witness investigations, much of the timber that is not exported, goes to hotels. Though cutting is illegal, and there is little legal timber left in Cambodia, logging is still extensive enough that Cambodian timber is cheaper than anywhere else in the region, Hardke said.
While forestry officials say they are doing their best to crack down, Hardtke said the trade has gone on for years under their noses, and sometimes with the tacit approval of the government.
He noted a sawmill run by import-export giant Sokimex in the center of Siem Reap town, in which Global Witness investigations have found extensive stockpiles of luxury timber.
Inspectorate Chief Vann Sophanna and Sokimex Vice Chairman Sorn Sokna have said the sawmill is authorized by a permit from the Council of Ministers to produce furniture for the under-construction Sokha Angkor Hotel and only processes old wood. Hardtke, however, said newly cut wood is frequently passed off as old by timber dealers.
Hardtke also noted a hotel under construction by the owner of Angkor Village Resorts, whose hotels are renown for delicate woodwork, as one of many hotels relying heavily on luxury timber.
Angkor Village Resorts owner Oliver Piot denied using illegally-logged wood, saying wood is readily available locally.
He added that forestry officials inspected his resort and found no problems.
“I am not cutting the wood in the forest, I am just buying the wood on the local market,” he said Wednesday.