Official Says Bokor Sees Renewed Logging

Illegal logging in Bokor Na­tional Park in southern Cambodia has risen since a European Com­mission-funded project ended last month, a government environmental official says.

The EC-funded Support Pro­gram to the Environmental Sec­tor in Cambodia, or SPEC, ended a $600,000 management project last month, said Chay Samith, the acting director of conservation. Tree felling has since re-started in the park, he claimed.

“Right now, armed men are hiring the residents to cut down trees to enlarge their farms,” Chay Samith said, claiming that about 20 armed men and businessmen are behind the illegal activity. “It is hard to deal with the logging. It is like trying to disperse a cluster of waterweed.”

Under SPEC, 25 park rangers including RCAF soldiers and environmental officials equipped with six motorcycles had been daily patrolling the 140,000-hec­tare park in Kampot province. But when the SPEC contract end­ed they ran out of money to buy gasoline and had to drastically cut their number of patrols, Chay Samith said.

In the past month, he said, armed men have hired workers to cut down trees at 250,000 riel ($63) for each hectare of land.

Chay Samith said about 50 hectares of land at Bokor have been cleared to enlarge rambutan, durian and pineapple farms.

In December 1997, SPEC said that evidence collected from villagers, park rangers and aerial photographs revealed new road-cutting and heavy logging on the northern, western and southern sides of Bokor. The group said then that the new roads gave illegal loggers access to about 80 percent of the park.

SPEC and environmental watchdogs at the time blamed the military, provincial policemen and a few businessmen for the illegal logging activities at Bokor.

Kampot police chief Seng Sok­hun said Thursday he had heard of residents carrying out illegal logging in Bokor, but denied his police officers were involved.

“If [the police] are cutting down trees, why don’t the park rangers stop them,” asked Seng Sokhun, “because it is under the jurisdiction of the environment officials.”

SPEC’s team leader Etienne Baijot said Thursday that he had not received any recent report about increased illegal logging activities at Bokor.

Baijot said SPEC is deciding whether to renew its contract to help fund a management plan at Bokor. The group will consider whether the Ministry of Environ­ment can fund the project itself or raise money from tourist fees.

“We wait and check,” he said, adding a final decision on a re­newal was expected in a week.

Bokor holds a position on the southern plateau of the Elephant Mountains near the Gulf of Thailand and has potential to be a key tourist destination. The park, which has many rare plant and animal species, also was be­ing developed for scientific research.




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