NGO: Gov’t Permits Cover for Illegal Logging

Government officials are issuing permits that are used by companies to illegally log and export trees, outspoken forestry watchdog Global Witness alleged in a statement released Friday.

In the statement, Global Wit­ness, which continues to investigate forest crimes though its relationship as government monitor was dissolved, described two cases where it says legal permits for branch and stump collection are a cover for illegal logging.

According to Global Witness, timber is also being illegally logged in Kratie province and exported to Vietnam, using documents from the Ministry of Com­merce and the Forestry Admini­stration at the Ministry of Agri­culture, Forestry and Fisher­ies, the statement alleged.

An investigator photographed stockpiles of the Kratie wood in Vietnam about 5 km from the Cambodian border, Global Wit­ness claimed.

“Global Witness should hand over documents to the government and maybe there will be an investigation,” Commerce Mini­ster Cham Prasidh said Monday.

“It is not for me to comment to the press,” he said, regarding a document bearing his signature that was distributed by Global Witness.

Global Witness also alleged that Thai company Thitikarn LTD had been granted a permit for stump collection in 2000 in Oddar Meanchey province but was actually buying wood from “military-supervised illegal logging operations.”

The statement claimed the company’s compound, near the town of O’Smach in Oddar Mean­chey, held at least 700 cubic meters of illegally harvested luxury wood at the end of January.

Vuth Thea, of Thitikarn, denied the Global Witness allegation when contacted on Monday.

Thitikarn has a permit to export wood for railway logs and does not log or export luxury timber from Cambodia, Vuth Thea said.

In August 2003 the Bangkok Post reported that Thai forestry police seized luxury wood from a Thitikarn warehouse, which officials said they believed was smuggled from Laos and Cambodia.

Vuth Thea denied that the seizure occurred.

Another document, which Global Witness said also facilitated the export of the logs from Kratie province to Vietnam, was a log book bearing the name and signature of Chea Sam Ang, deputy director of the Forestry Administration.

Several forestry officials, including Chea Sam Ang and Forestry Administration Director Ty Sokhun, declined to comment on this and other allegations made in the Global Witness statement, directing questions to Huot Bunnary, a Forestry Administra­tion deputy director and head of its new public affairs unit.

“I do not know Global Witness, and I am not familiar with the story,” Ty Sokhun said on Mon­day.

In December 2002, Ty Sokhun, called Global Witness “extremist” and said they were bent on “embarrassing the govern­ment.”

The government fired Global Witness from the position of independent forestry monitor last April though the group continued its monitoring efforts until its three-year contract expired in July.

Huot Bunnary said he had not received the statement, but added that Global Witness should not report crimes to the Forestry Administration.

“Global Witness and the government is finished, terminated already…. Right now we have SGS,” he said, referring to the new independent monitor, Societe Generale de Surveillance, which began monitoring at the beginning of February and officially launched its operations on Wednesday.

“If something is wrong, SGS should investigate. If something is wrong, SGS reports to the Forest Administration,” Huot Bunnary said.

Huot Bunnary also said that Thitikarn had ceased operating in Cambodia. “It [the permit] is finished already. It does not go on until 2003,” he said.

An SGS representative said on Monday that he had not seen the Global Witness statement and could not comment on the allegations.

“We investigate anything that the government investigates,” said Robert Tennent, forestry project manager for SGS.

At Wednesday’s launch, SGS project director Bruce Telfer, who heads the project but is based in Papua New Guinea, emphasized that SGS saw its role in the country as that of auditor, moni­toring if and when the Agriculture Ministry’s Forest Crime Monitor­ing and Reporting unit investigates a forest crime case.

However, at the meeting, Tennent said SGS would accept reports from NGOs.

Global Witness also alleged in their report that Taiwanese company, North East Lumber, also has a permit to collect branches and stumps in Preah Vihear province. The statement claimed the permit was illegal because it awards land that was part of a now-canceled forest concession to Lan Song company.

A 2000 subdecree on forest concession management prohibits the reallocation of canceled concessions.

Global Witness also claimed the company has been illegally cutting down luxury species for export, rather than picking up branches and stumps.

Mike Davis, of Global Witness, said he interviewed the company’s loggers while they were cutting down luxury trees. “We watched them do it,” he said.

Chun Jen Huang, manager of North East Lumber, denied the allegations, saying his company only harvests old tree stumps, branches ­and felled logs.

(Additional reporting by Nhem Chea Bunly)

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