Illegal Logging Reported in Pursat Sanctuary

A report released Wednesday by former national forest monitor Global Witness alleges that military forces are transporting illegally logged timber out of a wildlife sanctuary in Pursat province.

The report about logging in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctu­ary in Veal Veng district was made public a week after it was sent to officials in the Ministry of En­vironment and the Ministry of Agriculture’s Department of For­es­try, to allow the government time to respond.

Ministry of Environment officials, who have authority over the wildlife sanctuary, were not available for comment Wednesday.

Photos accompanying the report show large trucks carrying loads of boards—ostensibly illegally logged koki wood being removed from the sanctuary for export to Thailand.

“This is a fairly sophisticated operation,” said Global Witness’ Mike Davis.

The report names two military officials whom its authors say are in charge of the illegal activities; one is a deputy commander in Brig­ade 14, the other reportedly a commander in another division.

Davis said his group’s investigators witnessed individuals in military uniform driving trucks filled with illegal timber. Global Witness does not reveal its sources due to safety concerns, he said.

Last year, Eva Galabru, who at the time was the head of Global Witness, was beaten near her office.

Davis said military forces have been “operating well-armed profit and protection rackets” for years.

“This kind of activity has been going on in [Phnom Samkos] all year,” he said.

David Mead, country director of Conservation International, a group that helps patrol Cambo­dia’s forests, agreed.

“This would not be the first time that military of the 14th Brigade have been [caught]…moving and cutting timber,” he said.

Major General Bun Seng, the commander of Region 5, which covers Pursat province, said Wednesday that he knew nothing about illegal timber hauling.

“If there is some illegal activity like that, we are ready to cooperate” with Conservation Interna­tional to stop it, he said. He stressed the responsibility of conservation officials to inform him.

“What I have done in this case,” Mead said Wednesday, “is specifically told the commander of the 5th military region that it is time that he acted.”

Mead said he spoke to Bun Seng on Sept 19, and said the general said he would investigate.

If the military doesn’t take action, Mead said, “they should be treated under the penal code.”  “You can be jailed for doing nothing” about illegal activities, he said.

“If there is any military official who did something wrong, he must be punished, because we have the forestry law,” said Bun Seng.

During its tenure as independent monitor for the nation’s forests, Global Witness continually clashed with the government, which regularly disputed the findings in its reports and accused it of manufacturing evidence.

The government fired Global Wit­ness in April, but the group still operates independently.

A Swiss accounting firm, So­ci­ete Generale de Surveil­lance, has been tapped to replace Global Witness, but the agreement has not been finalized, sources said.

 

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