A large number of “furniture workshops” are illegally processing protected wood types in Ratanakkiri province, and forestry officials are turning a blind eye to the illegal business, local human rights group Adhoc said this week.
Eighty-two unlicensed woodwork businesses and 40 licensed workshops are operating in the province, and some are processing precious wood, which is illegal to log, Adhoc Provincial Coordinator Pen Bonnar said.
In Kon Mon district alone, thousands of protected trees have been cut down and sold to furniture shops in the province, Pen Bonnar said.
“Although furniture workshops have obtained licenses, they become illegal like the unlicensed workshops because they have purchased luxury timber to produce furniture,” he said.
Chai Ty, Adhoc Ratanakkiri provincial activist, said Monday that authorities closed some workshops in September but they reopened after paying fines of thousands of dollars to officials. Some even paid to have their confiscated timber returned, he said.
“We have noticed in each district, at least two or three furniture workshops operating,” he added.
Acting provincial Governor Chey Sayoeun declined to comment Monday and referred questions to provincial forestry administration chief You Kanvimean.
“The Adhoc report is absolutely wrong,” You Kanvimean said Monday.
“I can only confirm that the actual number of furniture workshops in the province is not like what Adhoc has said, and we [the administration] are never involved in crimes,” he said.
Lumphat district forestry administration office chief Leng Yuk said Monday there are only 14 furniture workshops in Ratanakkiri province.
Forestry officials are allowed to sell confiscated timber, but the proceeds are then handed over to the national budget, he said.
Some timber comes from companies that are specially licensed to log on economic land concessions, he said.
“Our forestry officials have never allowed any illegal operations of furniture workshops,” he added.