A Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) official in Oddar Meanchey province said he would be happy to meet with community forestry members who say that new military bases are threatening their plans to sell millions of dollars worth of carbon credits to foreign companies in return for protecting the environment.
A recent assessment of what aims to be Cambodia’s first forest-based carbon trading scheme, by a U.S. team that visited the area in February, raised concerns that new military bases being built inside the community forest area could jeopardize the project.
Representatives of the 13 forest communities involved in the project hope to meet with RCAF officials next week in a bid to convince them to move the bases.
On Thursday, Major General San Sear, deputy commander of intervention infantry for RCAF’s Division II, which oversees the area, said he would attend the meeting with the concerned villagers. He also denied the widespread forest clearance that members of the forestry network have accused the military of.
“Our soldiers do not cut down the trees inside the protected forests because we also need the trees to give us shade,” he said. “There are no RCAF soldiers who have engaged in logging and deforestation.”
Maj. Gen. Sear said orders from the highest levels of government had been given to set up bases in the protected forest zone, which runs along Cambodia’s contentious border with Thailand.
Sar Thlai, who heads the community forest network in the area, said they knew of at least six of the 13 forests where various RCAF units have set up bases in recent years. Just last month, Mr. Thlai said, locals found out about yet another military base in another forest when a group of soldiers forced a community patrol team to give up a cache of wood and chainsaws it had recently seized from illegal loggers.
At a meeting with local military officials about a year ago, the military said it was taking over 2,500 hectares in two of those forests, Mr. Thlai said.
Together with the growing number of civilians moving into the area, Mr. Thlai said, the carbon-trading project is coming under increasing threat as trees are cleared.
“The situation of cutting down trees inside the protected forests for carbon trading is getting worse because more people in military uniforms and more civilians are clearing forest,” he said.
“If there is no proper mechanism to stop the soldiers and common people, the protected forest for carbon trading will be gone. If there are no trees, we can’t sell the carbon.”
Terra Global Capital, the carbon trading project’s U.S. broker, is expected to start selling credits on the carbon the community forests have saved since 2008—somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 metric tons—this month or next.
But clearing of forest in the area has already forced the project to cut by 5 percent the number of credits to go up for sale.
In coming years, “the project could also lose additional credits as deforestation by the military will result in less sequestration of carbon,” said Sarah Sitts, country manager for the NGO Pact, which is working with the community forest network and the government on the project.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)