Official Says Legality of Sanctuary Logging Unknown

A district-level Environment Ministry official in Ratanakkiri province on Wednesday claimed that he had no way to determine the legality of logging operations by firms with private land concessions inside the province’s Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary.

The claim by Chou Sopheak, director of Lumphat district’s environment department, follows revelations that an agro-industry firm, Daun Penh Agrico Co. Ltd., has engaged in the systematic logging of rare and protected species of trees in an unauthorized area of the wildlife sanctuary.

Mr. Sopheak, who is responsible for the sanctuary, said he didn’t even know the boundaries of the official land concessions in the area of his responsibility.

“It’s difficult to say whether or not a company is logging outside its ELC [economic land concession], because there are no marked boundaries to show the extent of the company’s land,” Mr. Sopheak said.

“So, if they are cutting down trees outside their ELCs, we wouldn’t know,” said Mr. Sopheak, who blamed unnamed local “villagers” for illegal logging in the sanctuary.

Mr. Sopheak also denied that Daun Penh Agrico Co. Ltd.—which was issued an 8,825-hectare ELC inside the 250,000-hectare sanctuary in 2011—was also granted a second tract of land in the sanctuary earlier this year.

Ratanakkiri provincial governor Pao Ham Pan has called Daun Penh Agrico’s new concession “unofficial.”

Photographs taken by local human rights group Adhoc last week show thousands of 3-meter-long logs, much of it rare rosewood, stockpiled inside a sawmill located on Daun Penh Agrico’s 2011 ELC in the sanctuary. Photos taken on the same day show alleged employees of Try Pheap Import Export transporting hardwood logs of the same dimensions by boat across the Srepok River inside the Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary.

In February, the Ministry of Agriculture granted Try Pheap exclusive rights to purchase all timber felled in Ratanakkiri, a decision rights workers say has only served to hasten the deforestation in the province.

Yun Potim, a lawyer for Daun Penh (Cambodia) Group, which once oversaw Daun Penh Agrico, said Wednesday that the Ratanakkiri subsidiary had been sold to another local firm, Dara Ratanakkiri Agriculture, late last year.

“All relations and connections with that company [were severed] in 2012,” Mr. Potim said during an interview at Daun Penh Group’s headquarters in Phnom Penh.

Mr. Potim said Daun Penh Agrico’s 2011 ELC inside the Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary was likewise transferred to Dara Ratanakkiri Agriculture.

“Our plan was to plant cassava, but…cassava was not economically viable,” Mr. Potim said of the 2011 concession.

On Wednesday, a page on Daun Penh Group’s website that had previously touted the company’s rice- and cassava-growing ventures in Ratanakkiri was removed.

Kim Eang, a representative of Daun Penh Agrico, said she had never heard of Dara Ratanakkiri Agriculture, saying that the owners of her company are, in fact, Vietnamese.

On Tuesday, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Daun Penh Agrico’s “unofficial” concession—which a company representative said was awarded about five months ago—violated Prime Minister Hun Sen’s May 2012 moratorium on the issuance of new ELCs.

A report released this week by the Cambodia Human Rights Task Force claims that Try Pheap and his wife, Mao Mam, have been granted nearly 90,000 hectares of concession land in Ratanakkiri province alone.

The report also says that Try Pheap’s ELCs across the country have negatively impacted 1,445 families, although it does not explain how researchers determined this figure.

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