PHNOM PENH —
A new report on illegal logging in Cambodia’s northeastern forests portrays a single company with essentially a monopoly on the illicit trade.
The report, conducted by a consortium of development and rights NGOs, says the Try Pheap Group controls illegal logging in Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng provinces, forcing illegal loggers to sell to them and quietly consolidating power in the trade since 2013.
Try Pheap representatives declined to comment on the report, which gives extensive descriptions of the companies operations.
If loggers are caught trying to move timber without Try Pheap, they will be sent back to the company, which pays about half market price, the report says.
Meanwhile, villagers in the provinces will cut down luxury timber, store it behind their homes, and wait for a buyer to come. Some loggers manage to sell timber along the borders with Laos and Vietnam, but it is not easy to do without Try Pheap, the report says.
Private loggers must pay cash to the armed forces if they want to escape the influence of the company, the report says. If they don’t pay, the luxury timber is confiscated and brought to Try Pheap representatives. Motorbikes pay the lowest bribes, around $10, while cars must pay up to $100 for passage, the report says.
The 121-page report also says members of the military, military police and police and some senior government officials are all working for Try Pheap. The group makes annual payments to forestry officials, environmental rangers, provincial and local authorities and check-point security officers, the report says. All this ensures the timber moves freely.
Srun Darith, an adviser to the Ministry of Environment, called the report’s findings “baseless.” He warned that the report could be used as evidence in legal complaints.
The subtitle of the report, “systematic illegal logging and the destruction of state forests and protected areas,” should be changed, he said, to: “the forest situation of the two provinces.” This will ensure it is not seen as an “attack” on the government or others. The report should also look at the positive steps the government has made to protect the forest, he said.
However, the report does note that Cambodia has the right laws in place to protect forests, but they must be enforced.
Tek Vannara, executive director of NGO Forum, said the report could be a tool to find a solution to combat deforestation. “We are happy to continue putting the report up for further discussion with relevant parties to find a solution.”