Missing In Action: $23 Million in UN Hardware

Minister Orders Halt to Illegal Timber Traffic

The Agriculture minister has ordered an immediate nationwide halt to the transportation, purchase and sale of logs harvested illegally.

Tao Seng Huor’s directive Monday to the forestry department also calls for previously-issued permits to buy and transport illegally cut logs to be declared void.

Environmental watchdogs claim roughly $200 million worth of illegal logs were cut during the last dry season, putting the country’s forests at risk of being depleted within five years. The order comes as many of those illegally-cut logs are being transported outside Cambodia.

“We have to prevent this…” Tao Seng Huor said Tuesday. “The bad armed men are protecting boats loaded with logs.”

Patrick Alley, a director of the watchdog Global Witness, told the Associated Press Tuesday that the order “sounds good, but we’ve seen all this before.”

In a telephone interview from London, Alley added: “What we really need to happen is that [Second Prime Minister] Hun Sen has to put his political willpower behind this.”

The International Monetary Fund has vacated its office in Cambodia and withheld $60 million of loans since 1996, in large part because of corruption in the timber industry. Before the July elections, the two prime ministers had ordered a similar crackdown on illegal logging.

Tao Seng Huor said that about 1,000 cubic meters of logs were confiscated last week in Kandal province. He said he didn’t know where the logs had originated.

Alley told The Associated Press that Global Witness investigators in September witnessed hundreds of trucks and barges full of logs crossing the border into Vietnam.

Government environmental officials say that one of the areas they are watching closely is a wildlife sanctuary north of Kompong Thom town.

More than 13,000 cubic meters of logs were cut and dragged from the 242,500-hectare Boeung Per wildlife sanctuary during the dry season by armed soldiers, officials said. No logging is authorized in the protected area.

Now, environmental officials report stockpiles of logs and a virtual stream of logging trucks going up and down the recently restored 46-km stretch of Route 12 between Kompong Thom and Preah Vihear pro­vinces.

“This felling has seriously affected the wildlife sanctuary,” said Chay Samith, acting director of conservation, after visiting the area last week.

The government allowed an RCAF engineering unit to cut trees within 100 meters of both sides of Route 12 to help the government fund the $960,000 road project. But Chay Samith said illegal loggers have cut into the nearby wildlife sanctuary by 7 km.

Witnesses on Saturday reported seeing trucks loaded with raw timber headed south on Route 6 from Kompong Thom town just as the sun set.

Government officials met in Kompong Thom last week to discuss how to solve the problem, which has been blamed also on logging “businessmen.” Chay Samith said provincial authorities have pledged to take the illegal loggers and transporters to court.

Minister of Environment Mok Mareth said several days ago he had written to Tao Seng Huor requesting him to crack down.

In an interview Sunday, Tao Seng Huor blamed illegal logging on “anarchic armed men” and villagers, and said that he would ask the RCAF general staff to help suppress the illegal activity.

RCAF Chief of General Staff Ke Kim Yan said Tuesday that he had received no update on the problem since hearing of “anarchic logging” months ago.

“If there are soldiers felling the trees, why don’t authorities arrest them? There is no order [for soldiers] to cut down trees. No one dares to fell trees in the wildlife sanctuary,” Ke Kim Yan said.


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