Task Force Planned to Fight Illegal Logging

The World Bank and the Agri­culture Ministry have agreed on a plan to crack down on runaway illegal logging in Cambodia.

But it’s unclear whether the two prime ministers will approve the measures and take action.

The plan calls for task forces to be created to seize illegally cut logs and stop illegal logging, and for all new concessions to be suspended until World Bank-funded forestry reform projects are done.

Agriculture Minister Tao Seng Huor said Wednesday that he will submit a proposal to the World Bank for funds to enforce the plan by stationing 500 soldiers with as­sault rifles around the country.

The agreement grew out of discussions Friday between government and World Bank officials, including the bank’s director for the region.

“We urged the government to wait before issuing new concessions or taking any new measures,” said a World Bank official who attended meetings on the issue.

“The feeling is that there’s an unsustainable level of forest cutting which is depleting forest resources very fast,” the official said. “I think all parties understand the seriousness and significance of the situation.”

Global Witness, the environmental watchdog, has reported that at current rates much of Cambodia’s forests will be completely logged within five years and that some areas essentially will be­come sand pits.

The International Monetary Fund suspended an aid package to Cambodia in late 1996 in large part because of the government’s inability to check illegal logging and funnel legal logging revenues into the national budget.

Tao Seng Huor said this week that the World Bank proposed a six-point plan that he agreed with and has forwarded to the two prime ministers for approval.

Other elements of the plan include rescinding agreements that allow the collection of old logs and cooperating with neighboring nations to prevent log ex­ports. Global Witness says agreements to collect old logs often are a pretext for cutting new trees.

“I think that the two prime ministers will not object to this proposal,” Tao Seng Huor said.

Muth Khiev, an aide to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, and Suy Mong Leang, cabinet chief for First Prime Minister Ung Huot, both said they have yet to receive letters from Tao Seng Huor.

Chay Samith, acting director of conservation, said any task force of soldiers must be well-paid if it is intended to stop illegal logging.

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