Ordinary people have been illegally logging forest in Kompong Thom province that is part of a canceled logging concession, provincial authorities report.
Authorities are also investigating whether operators of ongoing concessions are buying logs from amateur loggers to sidestep a government logging moratorium.
Provincial authorities seized 105 cubic meters of wood and destroyed 33 charcoal ovens operated illegally in the forest in the last two weeks of September, a provincial report states. That includes 114 pieces of timber and 480 logs.
Most of the wood was seized from a Grand Atlantic Timber concession canceled earlier this year, said Pol Khamnare, director of the provincial forestry office.
“It always happens in the GAT region, in Santuk district and near Baray district because there are a lot of good trees and they can transport their logs and escape easily by car or by boat,” he said.
“Most of the people who cut [in the former GAT concession] are from other places and were incited by a small business group who will buy the wood and sell it elsewhere at a high price.”
Officials are investigating who is buying the logs, he said. Some forestry officials were involved in the scheme and will be fired, he said, though he declined to name any of the officials.
GAT’s concession was pulled in June in response to repeated evidence of illegal logging. Last year, government watchdog Global Witness found more than 1,300 logs felled outside areas where the Malaysia-based business was licensed to cut.
In April, investigators found evidence that more than 600 hectares had been harvested despite a government moratorium on logging passed in December.
But GAT had a large staff of guards to protect the concession from outside loggers, Pol Khamnare said. With GAT gone, provincial forestry officials do not have enough staff to patrol the area effectively, he said.
But Pol Khamnare acknowledged that the logging by ordinary people is smaller in scale than that conducted by GAT. About two-thirds of Kompong Thom is forested.
Kompong Thom also contains concessions by Pheapimex, Colexim and Meng Ly Heng. Authorities suspect those companies are buying and processing logs cut illegally by ordinary people, he said.
“For the illegal actions in the other three companies’ area, the owner of the company is allowing the people to cut and sell it to them. They saw the logs and sell it to support their workers.”
Pol Khamnare said his office is searching for evidence of the companies’ complicity. Any evidence they find will be turned over to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, which has the power to cancel concessions.