Ministry OKs 3-Province Timber Harvest for Zoo

The Agriculture Ministry has authorized a timber harvest in three provinces to provide an unspecified amount of lumber for the beautification of a state-owned Takeo province zoo, according to officials and ministry documents obtained Wednesday.

Authorities in Ratanakkiri province said Wednesday that they have observed at least four truck convoys carrying timber since August and have complained to the Interior Ministry.

Forestry Administration Direc­tor Ty Sokhun said the harvest was legitimate, though he could not remember how much timber was requested.

“We need wood for repairs,” Ty Sokhun said by telephone.

“It is legal and complies with the law. It is transparent. I don’t know whether the [Ratanakkiri] governor knows this,” he said.

“It is important to take wood because it is for the people and the country.”

According to the harvest authorization documents, in a June 6 letter to Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun, Ty Sokhun sought per­mission to collect luxury grade timber species.

“The Forestry Administration requests that the minister allow us to take beng and salav [wood] from Ratanakkiri, Preah Vihear and Pursat in order to build and decorate [the zoo],” the letter states.

Chan Sarun’s handwritten approval of June 20 appears on the letter. Chan Sarun could not be reached for a comment on Wednesday.

Ratanakkiri Deputy Provincial Governor Sim Souyong, who has been tasked with combating illegal logging in the province, said Wednesday that he found the authorization letter suspicious.

“The request does not specify the quantity of wood that should be taken,” he said, adding that authorities saw the first of the four-truck convoys in June.

“I have observed this four times already,” he said.

“They didn’t inform us. They didn’t comply with administration procedures. They failed to submit any documents,” Sim Souyong said.

The drivers of a third convoy stopped in August had no documents whatsoever, while one stop­ped last week presented a copy of a request for just 20 cubic meters of wood, he said.

Provincial officials do not have the authority to search the large Russian-made trucks that are transporting the wood, but they appeared to contain felled trees, he added.

Speaking on condition of ano­nymity, a provincial forestry ad­ministration official said Wed­nesday that his office had receiv­ed an order for the wood from the Forestry Administration in Phnom Penh.

The official said he could not recall the total amount requested but he estimated that 32 cubic meters had been delivered already.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sop­heak said Wednesday that his ministry had received the provincial authorities’ complaint and were investigating but declined further comment.

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center Deputy Director Pin Nivun said he was unaware of the plan to acquire wood for his zoo and referred questions to the zoo’s director, Nhiek Rotannak Pich, who was traveling Wednesday.

Nick Marx, chair of the rescued wildlife program for the environmental organization Wild­life Alliance, which helps fund and manage the zoo, said his or­ga­nization was also un­aware of any needed lumber.

“We are not aware of it,” he said. “There has been nothing de­livered to Phnom Tamao zoo.”

(Additional reporting by Dou­g­las Gillison)





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