The booming trade in bamboo to Thai merchants has grown so rampant in recent months near the northwestern town of Pailin that local residents are concerned and asking for authorities to intervene.
They told VOA they are concerned that the bamboo will be depleted completely from the hilly and mountainous region near Thailand. The center of Pailin town is roughly 12 kms from the Thai border. The area was controlled for years by Khmer Rouge forces opposed to the Cambodian government in Phnom Penh. But that changed in 1996 when they defected en masse.
Local residents said people of the area are poorer and more desperate than usual because of unusually harsh drought and flooding during the past year and that regular farming is difficult.
Tens of thousands of bamboo stalks were harvested in recent weeks from Koy Mountain, Keh Mountain, Au Ta Leu and Au Ta Kraom, according to a roadside village vendor, who indentified himself as Kosal. He said that Thai business people from Rakyang province are buying up the bamboo which is much cheaper to buy in Cambodia than in Thailand.
Bamboo stalks extending six to eight meters sell for between 800 and 1,000 riels and old, mature bamboo can go for 15,000 to 20,000 riels – and then the Thais sell them for four or five times that amount.
Villagers pay money to local police, army and government officials to ensure the business is not interfered with, they told VOA.
Opposition Sam Rainsy Party's candidate for member of parliament from Pailin area, Ms. Ven Dara, said that the authorities want money and they do not care about keeping the bamboos or lumber. She acknowledged that Prime Minister Hun Sen recently complained about the destruction, but that the local authorities pay no attention and do what they want anyway.
She said military police closed their eyes and that even the city mayor does not care. There is no authority that one can even complain to. She said the bamboo harvest has exploded since 2003, and the damage to the natural forest and habitat is severe.
Human Rights organization Adhoc official, Sam Chan Dara said that, he would like to see the bamboos preserved and replanted.
Pailin Police commissioner, Le Chan Chhay said that he can not meddle and unable to answer any questions in this matter. He said that higher authorities should give orders for the crackdown.
Pailin province Governor, Kaet Sothea, said that he does not understand why there should be a protest now against cutting the bamboos when it has been done almost 10 years ago, and now that the people cut them for their living, there is a complaint about the destruction of the bamboos.
Pailin city’s Sala Krau district governor, Suos Siyath, alleged that he agrees with complaints about the destruction of the bamboos because the practice is not stable – has only short-term gain but no long-term gain. He said merchants should choose alternative ways to make business.