A Cambodian forestry company is set to export about $50 million worth of illegal logs into Thailand via Laos, the environmental watchdog Global Witness charged on Thursday.
The deal involves 100,000 cubic meters of logs cut in Stung Treng province and trucked to the Lao border, Global Witness claimed.
The London-based group alleged that the deal was authorized by senior government officials, and that Cambodia’s forestry officials are taking a cut of the profits.
If true, the deal is another profound indication that logging is completely out of control in Cambodia. It also comes at the same time as the prime ministers have ordered a crackdown on illegal logging.
World Bank-funded consultants recently estimated that more than 4 million cubic meters of logs were harvested in 1997, 90 percent of which was illegal.
Agriculture Minister Tao Seng Huor, who oversees the forestry department, on Thursday denied any knowledge of the deal.
“There is no license to export logs,” he said. “Wow! One hundred thousand cubic meters of logs are too much. The Ministry of Agriculture didn’t allow the forestry department to let the logs be exported.”
Tao Seng Huor also said that if Laos has violated an agreement not to import logs, “then I will cry for help.”
The Cambodian logging company allegedly involved in the deal couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday evening.
Patrick Alley, a Global Witness director, said in a statement that Global Witness has written to Thai officials to warn them.
“Laos is deliberately flouting their commitment to prevent illegal log imports from Cambodia, and both Cambodia and Laos will try to dupe Thailand into believing the logs are from Laos,” Alley said.
Global Witness said that Thailand is alone among Cambodia’s neighbors in honoring a commitment not to import logs.
Earlier this year, Global Witness charged that about $200 million worth of logs were being exported illegally from northeast Cambodia to Vietnam.
Global Witness said the logs destined for Thailand via Laos are exiting Cambodia at three points, including one near Route 13.
Logs are stockpiled near the border and as of late May, 8,500 cubic meters had crossed into Laos, the group said.
Local loggers told Global Witness investigators that the Cambodian logging company is paying the Lao government $50 per cubic meter for passage across the border, and that the logs will fetch $450 per cubic meter at the Thai border.
Global Witness further asserted that materials and machinery to upgrade Route 13 are being diverted to build more logging roads.
Both Global Witness and the World Bank say that Cambodia’s commercially valuable timber will essentially be logged out within five years at current harvesting rates.
The International Monetary Fund suspended a $120 million loan package to Cambodia in late 1996, in large part because of corruption in the forestry sector.