Timber Negotiations Scrapped; Seized Wood to Be Divided Up

In the latest setback to its attempt to sell off millions of dollars worth of seized timber, the government canceled five days of negotiations with potential buyers scheduled for this week, an official said on Monday.

Valued at about $14 million, the wood was confiscated from sawmills, plantations and other properties across the country’s east by a military police-led task force established by Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this year.

After scrapping a number of auctions for the wood over the past few months—only one went ahead—the Finance Ministry resorted to direct negotiations with businesspeople last month, selling 10,325 cubic meters to four buyers for a total of $2.4 million.

But the interest from buyers was short-lived, according to Soung Mengkea, an undersecretary of state at the ministry.

Negotiations planned for this week for the remaining timber—some seized on rubber plantations in Mondolkiri province, the rest in forested areas of Ratanakkiri, Kratie and Tbong Khmum—ave also been canceled, Mr. Mengkea said.

Mr. Mengkea said the lack of interest could be due to the large lot sizes on offer and said the ministry now planned to further divide the wood and put it up for sale again.

“We will now divide the big piles of wood into many small piles and advertise them again to let people and companies apply for price negotiations,” he said

Mr. Hun Sen announced in April that wood seized by the task force would be donated to the Education Ministry for use as building materials, but changed his mind the following month, declaring that it should be auctioned off and the proceeds used by the ministry as needed.

Most of the timber was found on the properties of agribusiness firms, many of which have been accused by locals and rights groups of illegal logging. Provincial courts have opened investigations into several of the companies in recent months, but have yet to lay any charges.

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