Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun on Thursday defended the government’s stewardship of the country’s forests, telling the National Assembly that officials were closely observing the forestry law while seeking to meet the domestic demand for lumber.
Appearing at the request of SRP lawmaker Son Chhay, Chan Sarun declined to give direct answers to questions about a June report by the forestry monitor Global Witness, saying its accusations against himself and other officials were a discredited, political attack on the government.
“Newspapers and some extremist NGOs,” had also joined the attack without communicating with forestry officials, Chan Sarun said, adding that the allegations were also repeated by an “unconscientious group seeking to defame government leaders.”
Son Chhay asked for an explanation of the ministry’s decision in June to allow the logging of an unspecified amount of luxury grade wood from three provinces, supposedly for the beautification of Phnom Tamao zoo in Takeo province.
Son Chhay also suggested that Chan Sarun’s kinship to Forestry Administration Director Ty Sokhun could have influenced his decision to approve the controversial request for an unspecified amount of timber. “Did you agree without knowing how much wood is needed because he is your nephew?” Son Chhay asked the minister.
The agreed logging for the Phnom Tamao zoo is for the construction of a museum to exhibit Cambodia’s tree species, Chan Sarun said.
“With the wood we are taking, we are observing procedures and the exact quantities. I think the forestry officials can show you the numbers,” he said.
Chan Sarun also said that in 2006 and early 2007, authorities had confiscated 27 chainsaws, four motorbikes, one truck, 400 cubic meters of wood and made 46 arrests in the area around Tumring commune in Kompong Thom province’s Sandan district—a region highlighted in the Global Witness report.
The government had also allowed the Seng Keang Company to operate a sawmill at the site of a logging operation in Sandan district despite the 2001 ban on logging because the ban had caused a shortage in the domestic lumber supply.
Son Chhay said after the Assembly adjourned that Chan Sarun had not answered the most sensitive questions related to forestry crimes in Cambodia.