Gov’t Investigating Claims of Logging in Wildlife Sanctuary

Authorities in Pursat province are investigating allegations by villagers that timber baron Try Pheap’s company is illegally logging in a wildlife sanctuary and transporting the wood to company property, an official said on Sunday.

A manager for the company MDS denied the accusations, saying it was only clearing trees inside its authorized economic land concession (ELC) in Veal Veng district.

District governor Heng Sopheana said he told district officials to look into the matter after hearing a Radio Free Asia report on Saturday in which villagers said they had seen MDS trucks regularly transporting wood from protected areas to the company’s ELC.

“I ordered my officials to investigate if some trucks are really transporting wood every night from the wildlife sanctuary to the MDS company,” he said, adding that authorities would take action if the company was found to have cut wood in Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary.

Mr. Sopheana referred other questions to MDS.

Kheang Sochivoan, who manages the company’s operations in Pursat, denied the claims and said the company was clearing the remaining 1,000 hectares of its 6,000-hectare ELC, which was granted by the Agriculture Ministry to develop a rubber plantation in 2010.

“MDS is not involved in logging at the wildlife sanctuary,” Mr. Sochivoan said. “The accusation is not right.”

The company paid taxes to the government for the collected wood, he said, adding that it was being used to construct company offices on ELC land.

People accusing the company were angry because they were not allowed to transport wood on a company road, as MDS feared authorities would mistakenly think it was transporting wood illegally, Mr. Sochivoan said.

Mr. Pheap, an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, has been repeatedly accused of using his land concessions across the country to run one of Cambodia’s largest timber laundering rackets. His representatives have consistently denied the allegations.

Saing Mom, 42, who lives in Anlong Reap commune, said she has seen at least four MDS trucks transporting wood, including first- and second-grade species, every evening for almost 10 years. “I have never seen authorities stop the trucks for transporting wood from the wildlife sanctuary,” she said.

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