Official Retracts Comments About Logging in Wildlife Sanctuary

A district-level Environment Ministry official on Thursday retracted comments he made last week when he claimed proper monitoring of logging inside Ratanakkiri province’s Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary was impossible because his ministry did not know the boundaries of private land concessions in the protected zone.

On November 20, Chou Sopheak, director of Lumphat district’s environment department, said the boundaries of economic land concessions (ELCs) in the sanctuary were not marked and environment officials did not have maps to indicate the exact size and location of the privately held tracts.

Mr. Sopheak’s comments followed the discovery of thousands of pieces of luxury-grade timber inside Daun Penh Agrico Co. Ltd.’s ELC in the sanctuary earlier this month. Local officials, including the district governor, said the wood had been felled outside the firm’s concession.

“It’s difficult to say whether or not a company is logging outside its ELC because there are no marked boundaries to show the extent of the company’s land…. So if they are cutting down trees outside their ELCs, we wouldn’t know,” Mr. Sopheak said last week.

But in a letter Thursday, Mr. Sopheak contradicted his previous claims, saying that only the borders of Daun Penh Agrico are unmarked, adding that environment officials did have a map of the concession.

“[T]he boundaries of Daun Penh Agrico Co. Ltd.’s land concession are not completely marked yet, so accusing the company of logging outside its land concession is not necessarily accurate,” he wrote in the letter.

“The Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary is an area that has many villages and many people enter and exit, so illegal logging might exist in small and secret forms that are difficult to curb,” he added in way of defense of the company.

Contacted by telephone Thursday, Mr. Sopheak said direct responsibility for the Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary lay with an official named Ou Sothy, but he refused to provide Mr. Sothy’s contact information or comment further.

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