Government officials Monday gave conflicting accounts on whether their investigation into an agricultural company has determined that the company violated its government concession by logging in Kompong Speu province.
According to Kompong Speu Second Deputy Governor Phauk Sam En, the Haining Group has been logging on lands that had been granted for running a castor oil plantation.
Provincial authorities opened their investigation after a July 8 inspection of the plantation by Global Witness, the country’s designated forestry monitor. Global Witness reported it had found at least 5,000 logs had been cut and claimed the Haining Group was running a large sawmill.
It wasn’t clear, though, whether the government would punish the company, Phau Sam En said.
But Ty Sokhun, the director of the forestry department at the Ministry of Agriculture, said Monday that officials are still conducting their investigation.
“Now we are studying whether the company acted within the terms of its contract,” Ty Sokhun said.
The government granted the Haining Group the 23,000-hectare concession for land in Phnom Sruoch and Oral districts in 1998, and originally planned for a cassava and palm oil plantation to be run, according to records from the Ministry of Agriculture.
Instead, Global Witness reported there was only a small plantation of castor oil plants.
Officials at the company could not be reached Monday for comment. As the investigation continues, at least one local official voiced concerns that villagers will be affected by tree cutting in the plantation.
“We do not know what the company wants to grow, but it’s cut down even small trees,” Sangke Satob Commune Chief Heng Sophal said. “The villages are located on the concessions, so we are very worried about losing lands.”
But Phauk Sam En said the company was actually helping the locals in other ways, by building a 50 km stretch of road that connects some of the communes in the two districts.
Nonetheless, the logging must stop, Phauk Sam En said.
“It has no license to cut down trees for business. It is only allowed to cultivate agriculture,” he said.