In a significant victory for environmentalists, Prime Minister Hun Sen has signed a subdecree ordering a major timber company operating in Cambodia’s forests to leave the country because it has cut too many trees.
The premier did not name the company in his remarks, delivered Thursday to international donors, but a government official confirmed that Grand Atlantic Timber International of Kuala Lumpur has had its contract canceled.
“We have canceled its contract because we do not believe that [GAT] will manage the forest in a way which can be sustainable,” said Ty Sokhun, director of the forestry department.
The announcement came as the government-appointed forest monitor, Global Witness, issued a report alleging that GAT has repeatedly broken the law by cutting more trees than it has permission to harvest and logged in areas outside its concession.
The Malaysian company was already on government watchlists after a judge ruled that it had logged trees illegally in Koh Kong province two years ago. The company was ordered to pay royalties on the logs, but wasn’t required to pay what could have been a hefty fine.
News of the government’s decision apparently had not reached GAT officials Thursday afternoon.
Cambodian office worker at GAT’s Phnom Penh office said Thursday that two company managers were overseas and not available for comment. He added that his company was unlikely simply to leave Cambodia.
A spokesman for Cambodia’s logging industry called the cancellation “disturbing.”
“If this news is true, it is very surprising and very disturbing considering that a subdecree can be issued ordering an investor to leave without establishing any major breach of investment contract or establishing any such wrongdoing,” said Henry Kong, chairman of the Cambodian Timber Industry Association.
GAT received a 25-year contract in 1995 to cut Cambodian timber. The company was allowed to operate concessions totaling 365,500 hectares in Koh Kong, Kompong Thom, Pursat, Kratie and Mondolkiri provinces.
An Asian Development Bank-sponsored review of Cambodia’s forest concessions issued in April 2000 said the company was cutting trees so quickly that it would empty its Koh Kong concession in 10 years and its Kompong Thom concession in five.
The Global Witness report includes photographs of what the watchdog contends are illegally cut logs. In one photograph, two large tractors belonging to GAT block a road, making it impossible for Global Witness inspectors to drive into a concession.
Marcus Hardtke of Global Witness said the GAT cancellation is directly linked to the evidence of illegal logging that Global Witness investigators found.
“GAT was logging illegally on a pretty large scale,” he said. “Hopefully it’s the beginning of real reform of the concession system at the forestry sector.”
Hardtke said inspectors with Global Witness found at least 1,000 illegally cut trees earlier this year. The trees were cut at a time when the government was maintaining a nationwide moratorium on cutting.