Land Could Go To Convicted Logging Firm

Government officials are considering giving more land to a logging company found guilty of illegal logging and road building in the Cardamom mountains.

Ty Sokhun, director of the De­partment of Forestry and Wildlife, said the government may transfer its 60 percent share of the Co­lexim logging concession to GAT, a Malaysian company found to have illegally cut trees and built an unauthorized road on its concession and on a neighboring concession in the Cardamom mountains.

Global Witness, the government’s independent forestry monitor, said it was “mystified” by the GAT case.

The Colexim land has “obvious conservation value,” because of its location in one of the most pristine areas of lowland forest left in Southeast Asia, the group said.

“If the government is serious about forest reform it [should] seek World Heritage status for the area rather than…considering the sale to GAT, a company that only last month it took to the Court of Appeal for illegally logging in the Cardamom mountains,” Global Witness stated.

Colexim’s concession of 147,187 hectares in Kompong Thom province is a logging partnership between the government and the Japanese company Oka­da, according to a Sept 14, 2000, memo addressed to Agri­cul­ture Minister Chhea Song from Ty Sokhun.

The total assets of the enterprise, which started in 1992, are $5,500,000, of which the government possesses 60 percent, or $3,300,000.

In the memo, Ty Sokhun says Colexim has faced annual deficits between 1992 to 1999—despite cutting 322,630 cubic meters of timber. He seeks approval for the forestry department to “rehabilitate Colexim by either [providing] additional capital or [by] privatizing the [government’s] 60 percent share.”

Nut Un Voan Heng, manager of Colexim, said the company “has had difficulties in making profits” and “if we kept running it by ourselves it would be too difficult.”

In a brief letter dated September 6, 2000, and addressed to Chhea Song, GAT said they needed “raw materials” for their timber factory in Kompong Thom and asked to take over the government’s stake in Colexim, saying the “takeover will also increase [the] government’s annual royalty collection.”

On December 18, an appeals court found GAT had illegally cut 777 trees and built an unauthorized logging road on their concession in the Cardamom mountain region. However, the court allowed GAT to keep the logs and only ordered the company to pay the government $108,000 in royalty fees for the logs—the amount they would have paid if they had cut the trees legally.

Ing Ou, director of the legislation and litigation office in the forestry department, said they asked the Ministry of Agriculture a few days ago to consider appealing the GAT decision to the Supreme Court, but “we are not sure if they will do anything.”

Ty Sokhun said a commission—made up of members of the ministries of Agriculture and Finance—is currently evaluating the value of the Colexim land and will decide whether to transfer the government’s share of the land to GAT.

Numerous attempts to reach officials in the Ministry of Agriculture to comment on the GAT case and the proposed concession transfer were not successful, while several officials at the Ministry of Finance said they were unaware of the case.

Global Witness is calling on the government to demonstrate its commitment to forestry reform by canceling GAT’s concession agreement.

“One of the biggest logging companies in Cambodia was caught illegally logging on a massive scale and was found guilty—but the punishment was no deterrent and they are very likely to log illegally again,” said Patrick Alley of Global Witness.

In May, Global Witness said they “uncovered systematic illegal logging” by GAT, after conducting an aerial reconnaissance of the Cardamom mountains, which recent surveys have shown to be teeming with rare plants and animals.

The Colexim land, in Kompong Thom province, is at the core of the Stung Prorong/Phnom Chi lowland evergreen forest, which is the largest forest of its type in Indochina, Global Witness says.

The Colexim area borders another GAT concession to the south and if the transfer goes through it would be easy for GAT to move cut logs through the region, the group said.

 

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