A group of NGOs in Cambodia have called on the European Union to suspend timber imports from Vietnam citing continuing deforestation of Cambodia’s dwindling forests.
In a statement last week, the NGOs said the EU should not sign a proposed Voluntary Partnership Agreement due to continued illegal logging.
Most of the timber Vietnam imports from Cambodia for re-export, the NGOs said, was laundered and gained through bribery of officials in Cambodia.
“Often, the indigenous population is coerced and bullied into agreeing to sell their ancestral forests for a pittance,” read the statement.
Ouch Leng, an anti-illegal logging activist, said he had asked the EU to review the evidence of illegalities in the forest sector before signing the agreement on Thursday.
“I will resist until the EU changes its mind. Although it signed the agreement, we will collect support from the world to put the blame on the EU,” he said, adding that enough evidence had been collected to prove the existence of timber smuggling from Cambodia to Vietnam.
In September, Sar Kheng, the interior minister, told officials in Battambang province that the government had collected evidence of illegal logging using satellite imagery.
“Regarding filming by satellite, there is nothing to hide, meaning they conduct live screening for us to see where the wood is being transported. As [I] am aware, it seems to be in Mondulkiri province,” he said.
The NGO statement submitted to the EU and Vietnam noted that “weak governance and systematic corruption remain a key obstacle to improvements in forest management. These problems beset Cambodian society in general, but are exceptionally apparent in the timber business.”
Keo Omalis, chief of the Ministry of Agriculture’s forestry administration, told VOA on Monday that there were loopholes in cross-border timber processing, paving the way for smuggling.
“We will also discuss with Vietnamese delegation how to jointly prevent the flow of illegal timber along the borders,” he said.
The EU embassy in Phnom Penh did not respond to a request for comment.
The NGOs recommended that “the signing of the VPA should be postponed. It should be conditional on Vietnam declaring a moratorium on all timber imports from natural forests from Cambodia until a functioning and verifiable Timber Legality Assurance System (TLAS) has been established under the VPA.”