Global Witness Cites More Illegal Logging

The environmental watchdog Global Witness claimed Wednesday that another $73 million to $216 million worth of illegal logs are on the verge of being exported to Vietnam from Ratanakkiri and Mondolkiri provinces.

“We urge the Vietnamese government and the international community to take immediate action to prevent these exports,  which are imminent,” Patrick Alley, a Global Witness director, said in a statement.

The Global Witness release follows on the heels of a charge from the group last week that top Vietnamese and Cambodian officials colluded on an illegal timber trade worth at least $130 million.

Cambodian government officials last week requested to see proof of such collusion, while Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry denied the accusation.

Agriculture Minister Tao Seng Huor said Wednesday the alleged illegal activity would be easier to investigate if Global Witness would provide some evidence.

“So far, I have never received any documents from Global Witness,” Tao Seng Huor said. “But we have sent officials to stop that [illegal logging]. Recently, logs have been confiscated. I think that there is a handful of bad elements that have secretly exported logs. But we are trying hard to preempt it and take tough action against it.”

NGO workers in Ratanakkiri have reported seeing convoys of trucks in recent weeks transporting logs to Vietnam.

Cambodia has banned log exports since Dec 31, 1996. An April 1997 clarification stated that timber can be exported only if it is processed first and comes from a legal concession holder with a license for the area being cut.

As evidence of the alleged illegal logging trade between the two countries, Global Witness cited photographs, film, secretly filmed interviews and documents issued by both governments. Many of those documents are now on the Internet.

Global Witness said one key document refers to a Vietnamese government-controlled timber giant wanting to import at least 100,000 cubic meters of logs from Cambodia.

Another shows Cambodia’s two prime ministers appearing to agree last fall with the request of Ke Kim Yan, RCAF chief of general staff, to give Military Region 1 permission to collect and export 27,000 cubic meters of logs to Vietnam.

When contacted Wednesday, Ke Kim Yan wouldn’t directly answer whether he had signed the document in question. He said that Military Region 1 had requested to “collect and control the illegally cut trees, to stop the illegal cutting.

“In fact, whether the logs would be exported or not, it is the duty of the Ministry of Agriculture, and it is not the duty of the RCAF.”

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