banlung, Ratanakkiri province – Illegal logging can be controlled in beleagured northeast Cambodia but only if top government officials reject tempting offers by foreign buyers, provincial officials said here recently.
“If the government enforces its order strictly, illegal logging can be controlled,” said Ratanakkiri Third Deputy Governor Sar Phim. But “if the government itself connives, then control of illegal logging will be in vain.”
Illegal logging ran rampant in the northeast in the past dry season, and environmental watchdog Global Witness reported Sunday that it is gearing up again.
“In September 1998, Global Witness saw 350 log rafts on the Mekong carrying a minimum 31,000 cubic meters of logs, much of which was destined for Vietnam,” the London-based group said. “Vietnamese loggers are already working in Ratanakkiri province, indicating that large-scale log exports will take place in the 1998-99 dry season.”
At a conference here last month, deputy governors from Ratanakkiri, Kratie, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear said Prime Minister Hun Sen’s four-point order in October to protect forests had been circulated throughout their provinces.
But Global Witness and other environmental officials noted similar promises have been made before with little follow-up action.
“We really hope that numerous recent statements out of Phnom Penh talking of a crackdown on the log trade really mean something,” said Patrick Alley, a Global Witness co-director.
Recently, the government has shown some signs of action. In dramatic footage aired last week on pro-CPP Bayon TV, Military Region 2 authorities set ablaze 11 logging trucks that had been seized while transporting logs harvested illegally in the Snuol Wildlife Sanctuary in Kratie.
Kratie Governor Nou Phoeung said the seizure proves the situation has improved.
“Now, we have implemented the measures,” the governor said. “The illegal businessmen and anarchic loggers are scared.”
But skeptics noted that the footage was shown at the same time a World Bank team from Washington was in Cambodia to assess the logging situation.
Noted Alley in the Global Witness statement: “The [government] has taken some positive measures but we’re in the lead-up to a [consultative group] meeting now, which is the traditional promise season.”
The meeting of international donors to Cambodia is set to be held mid-February in Tokyo.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Smith)