Environmental watchdog Global Witness has charged Cambodia’s forestry director with negotiating a timber concessions transfer despite alleged government assurances not to do so.
The London-based group claimed late last week that Forestry Director Or Soeurn has been negotiating a deal to transfer three logging concessions in Koh Kong province to a Chinese state-owned sea container company. The concession area in question totals 388,500 hectares.
But Or Soeurn denied the charge Monday. “In fact, Global Witness is confused,” he said. “We are not negotiating a concession transfer in Koh Kong.”
Rather, Or Soeurn said, the three companies tried to secretly transfer their concessions to the Chinese Marine Container Co. “Now we disqualify them from possessing the concessions, and their deposits are being confiscated,” Or Soeurn said.
Company officials couldn’t be reached for comment Monday. Global Witness has identified one company as perpetually violating logging regulations.
In March, Agriculture Minister Tao Seng Huor agreed with the World Bank on a plan to crack down on illegal logging. The plan included a moratorium on concession activity, but a nine-point order issued in late May by the two prime ministers doesn’t mention a concession ban.
Global Witness said Or Soeurn had kept the deal quiet from international donors before a key forestry forum in May.
Simon Taylor, a Global Witness director, said in a statement issued from London: “The RGC [Royal Government of Cambodia] string along the international community, pay lip service to recommendations crucial to the country’s forests and future, while all the time they’re trying to make more money on the side…”
The group did not state how it obtained its information.
Global Witness said the existing concessionaires in Koh Kong wanted out because the high-grade timber already has been illegally logged and the companies can’t process the lower-grade timber. The Chinese company, the environmental group said, wanted to invest in a plywood factory to cut the lower-grade timber.