Watchdog Says Loggers Rushed to Finish

roweang district, Preah Vihear province – The red dirt road of Chnuon village erupted in swirls of dust as logging trucks emerged from the jungle one after the other.

The trucks, roaring under the strain of their loads, turned off the road near a school and headed for a nearby warehouse. In a 30-mi­nute span, five trucks arrived, each carrying four or five massive logs.

Logging companies spent the final days of 2001 moving as many trees out of the forest as possible before Prime Minister Hun Sen’s di­rective suspending logging operations nationwide went into effect Tuesday, according to the environmental watchdog group Global Witness.

“You can question anybody from Skun to Kompong Thom and they will tell you the number of trucks going down the road loaded with trees and going back up empty was appalling. It was day and night nonstop,” said Global Witness spokesman Eva Galabru.

The last-minute rush, which was difficult to watch because logging companies strictly guarded access to their cutting areas, was designed to move trees already felled but not yet moved to storage warehouses, logging workers said.

Speed was necessary because some loggers were allowed to cut tens of thousands of cubic meters in 2001, but struggled to find enough trees to meet their quotas, according to Global Witness. Trees left behind were profits lost.

The logging company active in Chnuon village, Timas Resources Ltd of Singapore, was granted its first logging license this year in Preah Vihear and Kratie provinces, with an annual allowance of 23,550 cubic meters of wood from Preah Vihear, or roughly 7,850 trees, according to the company and Global Witness.

A manager for Timas at their Preah Vihear logging site said last week that they had cut roughly 16,000 cubic meters in 2001, more than 6,000 cubic meters of it in the past month.

A company spokesman said Timas stopped logging on Tuesday.


According to Global Witness, logging generated $92 million for Cambodia between 1994 and 2000. But flood damage in 2000 alone, caused at least in part by deforestation, cost the country $156 million.

A manager for Timas Resources said the company cuts only trees considered second-grade in Cambodia and used primarily for plywood. The company pays $54 per cubic meter royalty to the government for second-grade wood, or about $864,000 for the trees cut last year.

Fears that excessive logging contributed to flooding led Hun Sen to suspend all commercial logging, but it may only be a matter of time before it resumes. The suspension is only temporary while the government and the logging companies negotiate a new forestry management plan.

That worries villagers in Chnuon, where the logging company stores its trees in a warehouse guarded by armed soldiers and national police who work for the logging company while wearing their government uniform.

“I heard a rumor that the contract with the company is 20 years,” said one villager. “Some people say the company will cut only five years before the forest disappears.”

The company confirmed they have a 20-year concession.

It’s difficult for the villagers to confirm any of their suspicions about the logging. The company warehouse is kept off-limits by armed soldiers and police who prohibit anyone from coming in, even to visit friends who work in the area, the villager said.

“They tell villagers to not go near the warehouse because they are afraid the villager is a journalist. They are afraid that the villager will spread information,” he said.

Strict controls are maintained further along the road that leads to the company’s logging concession.

Two reporters, a driver and a translator for The Cambodia Daily were detained for 1 hour by armed guards and a Timas Resources manager last week as they traveled on a road that passes through the logging area.

The journalists identified themselves as employees of the newspaper, then asked questions. A manager for the company refused to let the journalists go until they handed over two rolls of film, one from each of the photographer’s two cameras. The film would be returned to them in Phnom Penh, the reporters were told, but staff at the Timas office in Phnom Penh said they didn’t know about the film. Company spokesman Taing Chy said he would call the Preah Vihear manager to ask about the incident.

That night, two armed police officers sat outside the house where the reporters were staying for one hour before driving away.

Logging companies in Cambodia are generally not open to inspection, even by Global Witness, the independent monitor hired by the government to oversee logging operations.

Monitors from Global Witness were held at a Kien Svay plywood factory last year for nearly six hours before they were allowed to make their inspection. The company filed a trespassing complaint against the monitors, who were summoned to court for questioning. No criminal charges were filed.

Anyone who stood on the road north of Chnuon village could see the loggers at work.

A group of drivers working for the company said they can haul three loads of wood in one day from the concession area if they start at 4 am. Paid by the square meter of wood hauled, the workers said the five trees on their truck totaled just under 20 square meters.

The driver said he was paid $0.50 for each square meter and would get $10 for this load. The job pays better than most occupations in Kompong Thom, Kompong Cham and Preah Vihear provinces, the workers said.

That’s why they have done hauling work on-and-off since April of 2000. This latest stint began in early December and ended Dec 31.

The logging company’s presence in Chnuon has brought at least one benefit to the village: the road is mostly smooth, making travel to the larger village of Tenot Meloo easier.

A villager said the road was built in April of 2000. A company bulldozer pushed down a stand of coconut trees along the road to widen it. According to the villager, the bulldozer also knocked down the entrance sign at the village school because it was in the way.             Taing Chy, the spokesman for Timas, said the company hopes to resume logging in Preah Vihear soon. He said the company filed all the paperwork requested by the government following the  suspension, including an impact statement from May of 2000 to December of 2001 for the Forestry Department.


Related Stories

Latest News