An environmental watchdog claims Cambodia’s two prime ministers authorized an illegal log export deal to Thailand via Laos earlier this year.
The deal collapsed when the Thai government banned the import of the logs, much of which were left stranded just north of the border, London-based Global Witness reported in a statement dated today.
“The documents, dating between October 1997 and May 1998, are signed by [Second Prime Minister] Hun Sen, [First Prime Minister] Ung Huot and [RCAF General] Chief of Staff Ke Kim Yan and authorize Military Region 1 to export 20,000 cubic meters of ‘anarchicly cut logs’ and to retain the revenue,” Global Witness said.
Global Witness alleged that the documents showed that a Thai logging company was to pay just $37 per cubic meter, to be divided among Cambodian military officials, police and forestry officials.
“That means that 20,000 cubic meters of Cambodian logs [were] being sold off for a mere $740,000,” said Patrick Alley, a Global Witness director. “Even with the economic crisis, these logs are worth between $3 million and $10 million. What’s more, we know that the total exports were scheduled to be 100,000 cubic meters.”
Global Witness initially reported the deal in mid-June, saying then that senior government officials had authorized the export of as much as $50 million worth of illegal logs into Thailand via Laos. Such log exports have been banned since Dec 31, 1996.
When told of the alleged deal back in June, both Ung Huot and Thai officials promised to investigate. Agriculture Minister Tao Seng Huor, who oversees the forestry department, said then that he had no knowledge of the deal.
Tao Seng Huor said Thursday that he still has not received any report about any export agreement. But, he said, he will send officials “to talk with the provincial governor and RCAF military officers there to find out whether it is true or not.”
Ke Kim Yan denied Thursday signing any export documents. “There is no [authorization] to export logs,” he said.
Neither Ung Huot nor Hun Sen’s Cabinet officials could immediately be reached for comment Thursday evening.
After publicity about the deal
in June, “the Thai government,
honoring its commitments to the [Cambodian government],
banned the import of the logs from Laos into Thailand,” Global Witness said.
The group sent investigators to Stung Treng in September. They were told then that 16,500 cubic meters of logs were stranded on Route 13, 20 km north of the Cambodian border with Laos.
Global Witness investigators found the Thai logging company had not paid a Cambodian partner and, in turn, villagers who had cut logs had not been paid.
“There was an ugly mood up there,” said Simon Taylor, a Global Witness director. “The good news is that the cutting of trees in Stung Treng for this deal stopped as a direct result of the Thai border closure—and for that Thailand must be congratulated.”
Global Witness investigators, however, were told that attempts were being made to sell the logs to China via Vietnam. “The Thai border closure is only a temporary reprieve, if the Vietnamese let these logs in then the cutting will start again,” Taylor said.
The International Monetary Fund cut off $60 million worth of loans to Cambodia in 1996 and 1997 largely because of the government’s inability to bring in legal logging revenue.
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