Just two days before a major donors’ meeting in Tokyo, the environmental watchdog Global Witness warned that the country’s military is positioned to resume illegal logging once critical aid decisions are made.
The London-based group also called for a suspension of logging activity within concessions until a review of all contracts is completed. The government recently canceled 12 concessions, but an independent review isn’t slated to begin until May at the earliest.
“All of Cambodia’s military regions retain control of illegal log stockpiles and are poised for a resumption of illegal logging,” according to the statement.
“[Prime Minister] Hun Sen has shown that it is possible to crack down on log exports, but it is less clear whether this crackdown can be maintained after the Tokyo CG (Consultative Group) meeting,” added Simon Taylor, a Global Witness director.
During the past two weeks, Global Witness has been lobbying donors in Europe and Asia to base any resumption of aid on specific improvements in the forestry sector.
The government announced Monday that it had completed a draft forestry law, but disclosed few details.
Agriculture Minister Chhea Song said on Apsara-TV Tuesday that the government has virtually stopped illegal logging.
“Now the forest offenses have declined from 100 percent to 5 percent,” Chhea Song said. “Timber exports have not occurred nor are new trees being cut. We have cracked down on 371 sawmills and canceled 12 concessions which cover two million hectares of land. And the crackdown on forest offenses will not stop. We will make this clean until everyone respects the law.”
While Global Witness has praised the cancellation of the 12 concessions, there is broad skepticism that the government’s crackdown is as committed as advertised.
Patrick Alley, a Global Witness director, said by telephone from Washington last week that he would have expected more grumbling by the military if Hun Sen’s crackdown were perceived to be more than just temporary.
Conservation Director Chay Samith has expressed skepticism about the number and size of sawmills closed.
Global Witness noted that a key recommendation by the World Bank was a review of every logging contract to see if it should be terminated or renegotiated. The Asian Development Bank is slated to undertake this review, but not until May at the earliest, Global Witness said.
“This delay is unacceptable,” Alley said. “By the time the ADB begins the review, 13 months will have passed since the Forest Policy Reform Project said the forest had five years to go.”
Also, opposition leader Sam Rainsy issued Tuesday a 10-point statement to donors that includes concerns about deforestation. (Additional reporting by Ham Samnang)
The appeal also stresses rule of law, government accountability, and military and civil service reform.