DEFORESTATION, ILLEGAL LOGGING AND OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES IN CAMBODIA

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES IN CAMBODIA

According to one study, Cambodia will be one of the countries most adversely affected by global warming. There are problems with fertilizer run off contaminating water supplies. About 85 percent of Southeast Asia’s coral reefs in Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam are severely threatened by human activities such as pollution and overfishing.

Sihanoukville has become a dumping ground for trash and waste—such as discarded video cassette records and old tires—from other countries. In some cases the materials not supposed to be admitted but are allowed in after bribes have been paid to customs officials With old tires, for example, the officials allow them in, saying they are to be used on automobiles.

Gabriel Thoum wrote on mongabay.com; “Tim Killeen’s engaging new book, The Cardamom Conundrum: Reconciling Development and Conservation in the Kingdom of Cambodia, describes decision-making options that the Government of Cambodia could engage in to develop their nation along a path of sustainability through resolving the sustainable economic development paradox, or “conundrum”. Dr. Killeen’s analysis demonstrated that this conundrum could be resolved based on a green economy with four pillars. [Source: Book Review, Gabriel Thoumi, CFA, special to mongabay.com July 04, 2012]

These pillars are: 1) Providing communities opportunities to conserve and manage their forests through stacking and bundling ecosystem assets. 2) Diversifying agriculture techniques and products for local and international trade including intensifying production on the rice plain through drip irrigation and introducing new markets for upland crops such as perennial woods species like silk and rubber (see Wildlife Friendly Ibis Rice Project). Much of Cambodia’s farmland is dormant throughout the long dry season and could be much more productive through sustainable use drip irrigation using water from the local aquifer that is replenished by the annual floods of the Mekong River. 3) Managing Cambodia’s natural fisheries to ensure long-term sustainable use, while promoting green aquaculture to meet increases in domestic demand and create an export sector with massive growth potential. 4) Developing sustainable tourism options for both local and international interests through land-use planning and zoning, energy efficiency and improved access to tourism locations. This could occur in a manner that mimics the core/satellite strategy implemented in Angkor Wat,Cambodia, which keeps hotel and infrastructure development out of the core area of temple complexes.

Tonle Sap Environmental Concerns

The flooded forest surrounding the edge of Tonle Sap is an important spawning and breeding area for fish. The lake is a vital ecosystem for over 300 species of freshwater fish as well as snakes, turtles and amphibians and perhaps some crocodiles and otters. More than 100 varieties of water birds, including storks and pelicans, thrive in the lake. Each year, millions of fish come to spawn in the seasonally flooded forest surrounding the lake, attracting myriad waterbirds. Villages along the shores live with the rhythm of the season and the floods.

There are problems with fertilizer run off contaminating water supplies. Deforestation produces erosion that silts up the lake. Already there have been notable declines in some species of fish that has probably been caused by overfishing and conversion of traditional spawning grounds to agricultural areas. . There are also concerns that new dams on the Mekong River—notably in China and Laos—that could disrupt the entire Tonle Sap cycle, with catastrophic consequences.

Thus far the Cambodian government has done little to protect the Tonle Sap. Environmentalist say regulations need to be put into effect to prevent overfishing and illegal logging but realize that if more laws and regulation are put in place enforcement is spotty and corruption widespread. Often times politicians and military officers and police have a hand in the illegal fishing operations that sometimes involve connecting metal poles to car batteries to electrocute fish.

Toxic Waste in Cambodia

In 1998, Taiwan was condemned for allowing the shipment of 3,000 tons of mercury-contaminated concrete and waste to be dumped on open ground near Sihanoukville in Cambodia. One Cambodian worker who unloaded the concrete died after suffering intense headaches, dizziness and vomiting. [Source: Los Angeles Times, March 16, 1999]

In the hysteria that followed rumors of the waste being "radioactive," four people died in traffic accidents and one woman jumped from a window. The dumping of the concrete took place after Cambodian officials accepted $4 million in bribes from Formosa Plastics, a contractor that had produced the mercury.

Local people used the waste as fertilizer and brought home the bags it was stored in and used them to store rice. Some of the people who did this complained of stomach problems and sores on their skin. The waste itself was dumped into a pit where it posed a threat to the local water supply.

Protests were held to voice outrage over the dumping. Two Cambodia human rights workers that helped organize the protest were arrested.

Forests in Cambodia

1) Forest Cover: Total forest area: 10,447,000 ha; percent of land area: 59.2 percent. 2) Primary forest cover: 322,000 ha; percent of land area: 1.8 percent; percent total forest area: 3.1 percent. 2) Forest Classification: Public: 100 percent; Private: 0 percent. Other: 0 percent; 3) Forest Use: Production: 32.3 percent; Protection: 3.9 percent; Conservation: 21.3 percent; Social services: 0.9 percent; Multiple purpose: 3.9 percent; None or unknown: 37.8. [Source: rainforests.mongabay.com ++]

3) Forest Area BreakdownTotal area: 10,447,000 ha; Primary: 122,000 ha; Modified natural: 10,266,000 ha; Semi-natural: n/a; Production plantation: 59,000 ha; Production plantation: n/a 4) PlantationsPlantations, 2005: 59,000 ha; percent of total forest cover: 0.6 percent; Annual change rate (00-05): -2,600,000 ha; 4) Carbon storage: Above-ground biomass: 1,904 M t Below-ground biomass: 628 M t. 5) Number of tree species in IUCN red listNumber of native tree species: 862; Critically endangered: 10; Endangered: 13; Vulnerable: 9. ++

See Timber

Deforestation in Cambodia

Cambodia has one of the worst deforestation rates in the world. Since 1970, Cambodia's primary rainforest cover went from over 70 percent in 1970 to 3.1 percent today. Worse, deforestation rates in Cambodia continue to accelerate. The overall rate of total forest loss has jumped nearly 75 percent since the close of the 1990s. In total, Cambodia lost 2.5 million hectares of forest between 1990 and 2005—334,000 hectares of which were primary forest. Today less than 322,000 hectares of primary forest remain. [Source: rainforests.mongabay.com ++]

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Cambodia lost 22 percent of its forest cover between 1990 and 2010, an area larger than Haiti. As of 2010, around 57 percent of the country was covered in forest, but only 3.2 percent of this was primary forest.

1) Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005; Annual change in forest cover: -218,800 ha Annual deforestation rate: -2.0 percent; Change in defor. rate since '90s: 74.7 percent; Total forest loss since 1990: -2,499,000 ha; Total forest loss since 1990:-19.3 percent. 2) Primary or "Old-growth" forests; Annual loss of primary forests: -26800 ha; Annual deforestation rate: -5.9 percent; Change in deforestation rate since '90s: 45.2 percent; Primary forest loss since 1990: -334,000 ha; Primary forest loss since 1990:-84.1 percent. ++

Illegal logging, combined with rapid development and population growth, is blamed for much of Cambodia's forest loss. Deforestation in Cambodia also results from subsistence activities, notably the collection of fuelwood and clearing for agriculture. The hunting of wildlife as bushmeat is widespread in the country, while mining for gold, bauxite, and iron is increasingly a threat to Cambodia's forests as well. The government has recently introduced stricter legislation to govern small miners, including environmental provisions. ++

While the Cambodian government has struggled to enforce environmental regulations in the face of corruption and illegal activities, it has shown interest in reducing deforestation and setting up protected areas. On paper, more than 20 percent of Cambodia is under some form of protection, including the spectacular ruins of Ankor, which cover over some 400 square kilometers and are one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. However, even this World Heritage site is threatened by unrestrained tourism, which has seen massive construction of hotels within a few short years. ++

Deforestation in Cambodia is driven by a juggernaut of powerful interests. Collusion between officials, concessionaires, logging syndicates and the military creates a powerful front. The number of land concessions in Cambodia is rapidly increasing: rubber, mining and dams are major causes of large-scale deforestation. Despite losing out on valuable timber revenue from illegal logging in concession areas, the Cambodian government aims to expand rubber plantations to 400,000 hectares by 2020. Forest dependent communities face losing their land and independence, becoming poorly paid laborers in plantations owned by the wealthy.

Cambodian government has sold concessions, which totaled two million hectares (4.9 million acres) in 2011, to foreign corporations and this has resulted in local land conflict and environmental degradation. In June 2012, Jeremy Hance of mongabay.com wrote: Economic land concessions have become a political minefield in Cambodia. After large-scale protests and the high-profile murder of forest activist Chut Wutty, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced in May that he would suspend granting any new economic land concessions. But recently seven new economic land concessions were granted. Even before the moratorium on new concessions, the Cambodia Human Rights and Development Organization (Adhoc) found that two million hectares (4.9 million acres) of Cambodia—comprising over 10 percent of the country's total land area—had been handed over to corporation for logging, mining, agriculture, and other development through economic land concessions. [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com, August 06, 2012]

Cambodia Loses Half its Seasonal Wetlands in 10 Years

In March 2013, mongabay.com reported: “Cambodia lost more than half of its seasonally flooded grasslands in ten years due to industrial agricultural conversion, abandonment of traditional farming, and illegal drainage, putting several endangered bird species at risk and undermining traditional livelihoods in the region, reports a new study published in the journal Conservation Biology. The research is based on aerial photographs, land cover maps, and ground surveys. It found that the grassland area around the Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, declined from 3349 square kilometers in 1995 to 1817 square kilometers by 2005. Since then, a key expanse in the southeast of the Tonle Sap floodplain declined by a further 19 percent. [Source: mongabay.com, March 18, 2013]

“The loss of this entire ecosystem from Southeast Asia is imminent without immediate intervention. In 2009 only 173 km² of grassland were under some form of protection, but by 2011 even these protected areas were shrinking – with 28 per cent lost to intensive cultivation," said lead author Charlotte Packman from the University of East Anglia in a statement. “Flooded grasslands in Thailand and Vietnam have already been almost completely lost. Only a strong political commitment to protection and restoration can prevent the impending loss of the last major flooded grassland in Southeast Asia.”

The paper notes that declining seasonally flooded grasslands across tropical Asia makes the Tonle Sap lake floodplain particularly important. The area is home to eleven "globally-threatened" bird species and supports more than million local small farmers and fisherman. “Rural communities have been left vulnerable to land-grabbing and privatisation of -communal grasslands. Traditional, low-intensity use of the grasslands by these communities, such as burning and cattle-grazing, help to maintain the grasslands and prevent scrubland from invading," explained Packman.

“Intensive commercial rice production by private companies, involving the construction of huge channels and reservoirs for irrigation, is denying local communities access to the grasslands on which their livelihoods depend and destroying a very important habitat for threatened wildlife. Packmansays that since 2005 industrial rice expansion has become the biggest threat to the wetlands. “Between 1995/1996 and 2005, the encroachment of scrubland was the major cause of grassland loss, due to a reduction in traditional, low intensity agricultural practices in the grasslands. Since 2005, intensive rice cultivation by private companies has rapidly become the most serious threat to these grasslands, destroying huge areas at a very alarming rate.”

Illegal Logging in Cambodia

Illegal logging is a serious problem in Cambodia. An estimated 90 percent of the logging in Cambodia is illegal. The World Bank describes it as an anarchic situation" and estimates that if nothing is done, Cambodia's forests could be gone by in a short time. Much of the illicit timber makes it way across the borders into Thailand and Vietnam. In many cases politicians and high-ranking military officers are involved in the schemes.

High-quality teak and hardwoods harvested from Cambodia can fetch up to $1,000 a metric ton. The Cambodian Environmental Minister told Time, "Illegal logging in Cambodia is like the opium trading in the Golden Triangle. The logs are gold."

The government insists it is trying to do something about illegal logging but it is not clear how sincere these efforts are. The government levies a tax of only $14 per cubic meter on timber. This and the fact that most of the logging is illegal has meant the government lost $60 million in revenue in 1999 alone according to a World Bank report.

Until recently many areas remained inaccessible due to ongoing conflict and residual landmines. In the last 20 years, commercial logging, agricultural expansion, and shifting cultivation for harvesting charcoal and fuelwood have resulted in the loss of a further 1.4 million ha of forest. According to the FAO, the impacts of industrial harvesting, both legal and illegal, has put much more pressure on the forests than in most other developing countries. [Source: illegal-logging.info ]

History of Illegal Logging in Cambodia

After Cambodia became embroiled in the Vietnam conflict in the late 1960s, many forest areas were severely degraded through bombing, burning, spraying of herbicides and illegal logging. The civil war —which ran from the 1970s to the mid 1990s—is responsible for setting the stage for illegal logging. During the conflict, each warring faction financed fighting through timber sales. According to the Trade and Environment Database (TED), the Cambodian government exported mostly to Japan and Vietnam, while the three guerrilla groups (including the Khmer Rouge) sent logs to Thailand. Thai timber companies—often with the involvement of military officials— were found to be actively engaged in logging of forests along the Cambodian border. [Source: rainforests.mongabay.com ++]

During the 1990s, illegal logging was so widespread in Cambodia that the IMF canceled a $120 million loan and the World Bank suspended direct aid to the government until the corruption in the forestry sector was resolved. In response, the government moved to crack down on logging operations while issuing bans on unprocessed log exports and imports of logging equipment. The actions appear to have had little effect: between 2000 and 2005, Cambodia lost nearly 30 percent of its primary forest cover, and deforestation rates continued to climb. Illegal logging continues today despite further bans and restrictions—the government appears to have little control over the corrupt forestry sector. ++

According to Global Witness: In the aftermath of Cambodia’s civil war both the Khmer Rouge and the Phnom Penh government used logging to fund military campaigns. The war ended in 1998, but the destruction of Cambodia’s forests through illegal logging and associated corruption continues. Global Witness has exposed how the country’s most powerful logging syndicate is led by relatives of Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior officials. [Source: Global Witness]

Since 2008, these timber barons have diversified their interests, buying up vast tracts of land for plantations growing export crops like rubber and sugar. A sudden wave of land grabbing has gripped the country, with 2 million hectares of land – roughly 11 per cent of Cambodia’s total land mass – transferred largely from small-scale farmers to agricultural companies. Shockingly, half of this total has been leased out in just the last three years.

Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian Military and Illegal Logging

Cambodia's forests were depleted during decades of war and civil conflict in the 1970s and 1980s, when rival factions sold timber to finance their activities. In the 1990s, officially awarded but loosely regulated concessions stripped away more trees. Government and military officials have allegedly become increasingly involved.

Illegal logging in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold near the Thai border is believed to have been controlled by former Khmer Rouge members. In the 1990s undercover environmentalist videotaped illegally harvested logs being taken through Khmer-Rouge-controlled areas into Thailand. Mines planted by the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian army has slowed illegal logging, particularly in areas controlled by the Khmer Rouge.

The military is believed to be in control of much of the legal and illegal logging in Cambodia. When the military was put in charge of collecting logging revenues in the mid 1990, the government’s share went from $35 million a year to almost nothing,

In 2005, AP reported: “Government authorities headed to northeast Cambodia on to survey areas of felled forest that officials and military officers are accused of allowing to be illegally logged, officials said. The director of Virachey National Park, a park ranger and three military officials were charged with destroying the environment, destroying the forest and accepting bribes, said Yim Kim Sean of the Ministry of the Environment. The logging lasted from October 2003 until May 2004. It wasn't clear when the charges were filed, but the ministry filed a complaint against park and military officials in 2004. It asked to move the case from Ratanakiri province to Phnom Penh because it didn't want the provincial court to come under outside pressure, Yim Kim Sean said. [Source: AP, September 21, 2005]

World Bank Funding Illegal Logging in Cambodia and Laos?

A new report by environmental watchdog Global Witness found that two Vietnamese-owned rubber companies, which — with the financial support of Deutsche Bank, an arm of the World Bank and local governments — have acquired more than 500,000 acres of land in Cambodia and neighboring Laos. The companies and officials involved have made millions growing resin trees and harvesting their sap to make rubber, while thousands of poor Cambodians and Laotians lost the little they had. Villagers have been sued and prosecuted, intimidated, threatened and shot at while trying to defend their livelihoods. [Source: Denise Hruby, Global Post, May 14, 2013 |*|]

According to Global Post: “The companies in question continue undeterred despite allegedly being aware that many of their undertakings, such as the extensive logging of timber in national parks, are illegal, according to "Rubber Barons," the report released by London-based Global Witness on Monday that sheds light on the secretive operations of Hoan Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) and the Vietnamese Rubber Group (VRG). |*|

“Germany's Deutsche Bank, according to the report, holds $3.3 million in a subsidiary of VRG, which is chiefly owned by the Vietnamese government, and $4.5 million in the privately owned HAGL. The International Finance Cooperation (IFC), which is an arm of the World Bank, indirectly funds HAGL through its $14.95 million share in a Vietnam-based fund that invests in HAGL. “We’ve known for some time that corrupt politicians in Cambodia and Laos are orchestrating the land-grabbing crisis that is doing so much damage in the region. This report completes the picture by exposing the pivotal role of Vietnam’s rubber barons and their financiers, Deutsche Bank and IFC,” said Megan MacInnes, who runs Global Witness’ land team. |*|

“Both Southeast Asian governments have argued that the land concessions granted to HAGL and VRG will help develop the poor countries and turn simple, self-reliant farmers into plantation workers. But in reality, the 165,000 acres HAGL, VRG and affiliated companies hold in Laos and the 445,000 acres Global Witness identified in northeastern Cambodia have brought misery and despair to communities that depend on the forests, the report shows. Bulldozers arriving are often the first sign of a fight for land the poor countryside stands to lose. Houses have been demolished, farms flattened, cemeteries dug up, and trees in which holly spirits are said to live have been uprooted. |*|

HAGL and VRG have made millions off the plantations and the illegal selling of luxury wood. Between 2001 and 2011, prices for natural rubber increased ten-fold and reached about $3,600 per tonne last year, when Vietnam became the world's third-largest producer of rubber. Most rubber is shipped to China, where it is processed and exported to the United States and Japan. As demand surges, the tight supply has fueled HAGL's and VRG's land-grabbing in Cambodia and Laos. In addition, luxury rosewood grows inside the land concessions, which is illegally logged and exported, Global Witness says.

In northeastern Cambodia, Dong Nai, a member of VRG is estimated to have logged 30 percent of the total forest in the area, amounting to about 10,000 resin trees, which are used for the production of varnishes or perfumes, for example. For 100 resin trees, the company offered to pay between $250 to $330 in compensation, a sum the families would make from tapping the tree in two to three months, they said. But reports and complaints the residents filed regarding Dong Nai's illicit activities went unanswered — most likely due to the involvement of a cousin of prime minister and strongman Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for almost 30 years. Senior government officials, including the minister of land management, have visited the community to convince residents of the company's good intentions.

Residents protesting the illicit timber trade in Cambodia are threatened by police and military police paid to guard the concessions, and have even shot live rounds. May 16 marks the one-year anniversary of the killing of a 14-year-old girl protesting a rubber concession by officials. Despite Deutsche Bank’s and the IFC’s claim that they are respecting human rights, environmental and anti-corruption standards, Global Witness says that they didn't properly research the companies before investing millions of dollars in HAGL and VRG.

Combating Illegal Logging in Cambodia

The Cambodia government banned the export of logs at the end of 1996. It has sent troops to shut down illegal logging operations and forced timber companies to present sustainable management plan. Buy this is largely regarded as window dressing for behind-the-scenes corruption deals and illegal logging. The international community can pressure Cambodia because it provide hundreds of millions in aid. The Cambodia government makes a lot of promises it doesn’t fulfill. Some want it cancel more logging concessions and discourage settlers.

Partly as a result of pressure from funding agencies, the Cambodian government carried out a review of all forest concessions in 2000 to assess whether companies were complying with their contracts and Cambodian laws. The review recommended that new contracts and management plans should be drawn up and that, in the interim, a moratorium on harvesting should be imposed. The government has also attempted to address the serious problem of illegal logging. A forest crime monitoring and reporting project was established, and the government has also cancelled nine forest concession agreements covering 2 million hectares. [Source: illegal-logging.info ]

In 1999, the government issued a declaration on Measures to Management of Forests and the Elimination of Forest Illegal Activities. This decree allows only harvesting concession holders to operate wood processing facilities, as a means of eliminating the use of illegally harvested wood. However, there is still considerable scope for illegal logging and transportation across borders. Furthermore, the implementation of policies and regulatory frameworks is hampered by a lack of institutional capacity.

A lack of financial resources prevents the implementation of incentives for sustainable forest management in Cambodia. It is alleged that corruption amongst the police, local government, the forest administration, the military and at the highest levels of government allows illegal logging to continue unabated. The value of the illegal trade is estimated at US$13 million per year. The Asian Development Bank and the World Bank are supporting a number of initiatives to promote sustainable management, but even these projects are not immune to the charges of corruption. The Cambodian government has been widely condemned internationally for the unsustainable exploitation of resources and the associated corruption.

Global Witness, which has investigated forest management in Cambodia for seven years has called for investigations into and prosecutions for illegal logging and associated attempted murder, intimidation, extortion and smuggling, forest management reform, and greater transparency in government operations relating to natural resources and who controls them.

Cambodia Approves Four Land Concessions in Protected Areas

In June 2012, Jeremy Hance of mongabay.com wrote: A month-and-a-half after Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, declared a moratorium on on new economic land concessions, the government has announced four new concessions, each located in protected areas. Economic land concessions have come under the microscope in Cambodia after large-scale protests by local people and the recent murder of forest activist Chut Wutty. [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com, June 27, 2012]

According to the Phnom Penh Post, the Cambodian government has granted 35,000 hectares (86,400 acres) of economic land concessions to four companies: 8,200 hectares (20,200 acres) in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary; 9,688 hectares (23,939 acres) in Kirirom National Park; 9,068 hectares (22,407 acres) in Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary; and 9,000 hectares (22,200 acres) in Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary.

Hun Sen has denied breaking the government's moratorium by signing the economic land concessions, reports Voice of America. Instead the Prime Minister said that the concessions were agreed on before the moratorium was declared on May 7th. Hun Sen granted three other economic land concessions after the moratorium, totaling an additional 22,000 hectares. The government argued that these land concessions had also been near-approved before the moratorium went into place. Despite questions of legality, the Cambodian government has a history of handing out land in National Parks and other protected areas to foreign companies for rubber plantations and mining among other industries.

Four economic land concessions have been cancelled in Cambodia's Prey Lang forest, known as the largest intact lowland forest in Southeast Asia, reports the Phnom Penh Post. The economic land concessions, totaling over 40,000 hectares, would have been used for rubber plantations. Prey Lang forest is home to some 350,000 people, many from the Kuy ethnic group, who depend on its resources for their livelihoods. Most locals have vocally opposed economic land concessions in the region, including by staging protests dressed as 'Avatars' from the popular eco-science-fiction film, Avatar. Still even as Prey Lang is spared from new economic land concessions, locals are fighting existing ones. Prey Lang harbors between 26 and 50 threatened mammals, birds, and reptiles including tigers, Asia elephants, banteng, gaur, and Asiatic black bears. Half of Prey Lang forest has never been logged, making it a rarity for lowland forests in Southeast Asia. The government is currently mulling a proposal to dub over 600,000 hectares of Prey Lang and adjacent ecosystems as a protected area. [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com, August 06, 2012]

Cambodia Sells off National Park for City-sized Pleasure Resorts

The Cambodian government has illegally approved the establishment of a planation in Botum Sakor National Park, reportedly home to Cambodia’s largest population of wild elephants, by a company called Green Rock, which plans to clear 18,00 hectares for an acacia and eucalypti plantation and wood processing facility.

In March 2012, Jeremy Hance of mongabay.com wrote: “The Cambodian government has handed over nearly 20 percent of Botum Sakor National Park to a Chinese real-estate firm building a massive casino and resorts in the middle of pristine rainforest, reports Reuters. The city-sized resorts, costing $3.8 billion, will include a 64 kilometers highway, an airport, hotels, and golf courses. Botum Sakur is home to a number of endangered species including the pileated gibbon (Hylobates pileatus) and Asian elephant (Elephas maximus). [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com, March 19, 2012]

"Cambodia is giving away 36,000 hectares to a foreign entity with little if any oversight or obvious benefit to the people," Mathieu Pellerin, a researcher with Cambodian human rights group Licadho, told Reuters. Construction of the pleasure cities by Union Group is displacing local Cambodians, some who have lived there for generations.

Researchers have recorded 44 mammal species and 533 birds in the park. Other imperiled species include the white winged duck (Asarcornis scutulata), Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica), Asian slow loris (Nycticebus bengalensis), Indochinese silvered langur (Trachypithecus germaini), hog deer (Axis porcinus), dhole (Cuon alpinus), the elongated tortoise (Indotestudo elongate), the Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis), and the fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus).

This is not the first time Cambodia has taken land from conservation areas. Last year the government carved out 9,000 hectares from Virachey National Park for a rubber plantation. In 2007 the government approved Australian gold-mining company, Indochine Mining, rights to exploratory mining in half the park. Recently Licadho released a report showing that more than half of all Cambodia's arable land had been handed to private corporations as economic land concessions.

Thailand and Cambodia Team up to Tackle Illegal Rosewood Logging

In April 2012, Jeremy Hance of mongabay.com wrote: Cambodian and Thai officials have agreed to work together to combat illegal logging of rosewood and resulting violence between Cambodian loggers and Thai rangers, reports MCOT online news. Officials with both nations met on Tuesday and spent three hours discussing the issue. Commercial logging was banned in Thailand following devastating floods in 1989. However, the ban has not stopped Cambodian nationals from illegally crossing the border to harvest rosewood. Over 400 Cambodians have been arrested logging across the Thai border. Confrontations between Cambodian illegal loggers and Thai wildlife rangers sometimes turn violent: 13 Cambodian illegal loggers have been killed since January 1st in Thailand. Rangers says they are firing in self-defense as loggers are often armed. [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com , April 11, 2012]

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said that the country needed a campaign to halt Cambodians from sneaking illegally into Thailand for logging. "Please, kick off a campaign – why is there sneaking to cut their logs and [Thai soldiers] shooting us dead? Please look, the provincial governor, military, police, military police, please prevent this. Can you do it?" he said as reported by the Phnom Penh Post.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) recently released a report that argued that Thailand should list its rosewood species under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) this year in order to crackdown on illegal logging. "The major driver of this crime is the rosewood trade—a multi-billion dollar international market underwritten by Chinese demand," the EIA report reads, noting that loggers are targeting both Thailand rosewood (Dalbergia cochinchinensis) and Burmese rosewood (Dalbergia bariensis).

The World Bank recently released a study that recommended law enforcement agencies should focus on netting top organized criminals who are overseeing the global illegal logging trade, instead of just those who are doing the actual cutting, who are often propelled by poverty. Both Thailand and Burmese rosewood are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List. Rosewood is used to manufacture luxury furniture, musical instruments, and high-end flooring, however the trees have been overexploited for decades.

Forest Activist Investigating Illegal Logging Shot Dead

In April 2012, Jeremy Hance of mongabay.com wrote: “Chut Wutty, a prominent activist against illegal logging and deforestation, has been killed in the Koh Kong province of Cambodia. Wutty was shot dead at a military police checkpoint while traveling with two journalists with The Cambodia Daily. The journalists are currently being held for questioning by the military police. Licadho, a Cambodian human rights organization, says that Wutty was shot down when he refused to hand over a memory card with photos of illegal logging to military police. However, military police spokesperson, Kheng Tito, said that Wutty may have been armed and clashed with military personnel. A police officer, In Rattanna, was also killed in the incident. [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com, April 26, 2012]

The Phnom Penh Post reports that a rapid investigation by the Licadho has revealed that Chut Wutty was shot from behind by an AK-47 as he drove away from the military police checkpoint. According to them, In Rattanna was killed by a ricocheting bullet after shooting at Wutty, not by an armed Wutty. The two journalists with Wutty were uninjured at the time. According to Lacadho, Wutty and the journalists were returning from a visit to a Chinese-built dam where illegal logging has been rife.

Head of the National Resources Protection Group, Wutty had long been an outspoken advocate for Cambodia's forests. He fought against government "economic land concessions," which allow private companies to run extractive industries in parks and wildlife refuges, according to the Guardian. But it's not just protected areas that are at stake, Licahdo has recently released a report that contends that half of all of Cambodia's arable land has been handed out as economic land concessions.

In a brief article, The Phnom Penh Post noted that Wutty was "instrumental" in an journalistic investigation by the paper of illegal logging in the Central Cardamom Protected Forest, the same area where he was killed. The investigation showed how military police and government forestry officials paid by environmental NGO, Conservation International (CI), were smuggling illegal rosewood out of the forest. "[Chut Wutty] was well known for directly confronting those he accused of illegal logging across the country," the paper adds, further noting that at one point during the investigation Wutty asked to have his photo taken because he feared he would soon be killed. Wutty was married with two children.

Fran Lambrick of mongabey.com wrote. The two journalists driving with Wutty “wrote a shocking eyewitness account of his death, revealing that he was physically and verbally abused, then shot whilst trying to drive away, and left to die. His death reveals the brutal power of logging syndicates and companies, which are looting the country’s natural wealth, and employing the military to silence their opponents.” Wutty was the director of the Natural Resources Protection Group. He was the most vociferous activist speaking out against illegal logging, particularly active in the Cardamom mountains and in Prey Lang forest. He played a major role supporting the Prey Lang Network, a grassroots forest protection movement that spans four provinces.[Source: Fran Lambrick, mongabey.com. May 02, 2012]

In October 2012, Jeremy Hance of mongabay.com wrote: “An investigation into the mysterious death of Cambodian forest activist, Chut Wutty, has been dismissed by the courts, which critics allege is apart of an ongoing cover up. The court decided that since the suspect in Wutty's death, In Rattana, was also dead there was no need to proceed. Chut Witty was shot to death while escorting two journalists to a logging site run by Timbergreen. Wutty, whose death made international news, was a prominent activist against illegal logging in Cambodia. According to a court proceeding on last Thursday, Chut Wutty was killed by In Rattana, a military officer working for Timbergreen, after refusing to give up a memory card with photos on it. In Rattana was in turn shot and killed by a Timbergreen security guard who was attempting to disarm him. While the court has accepted this as the official version, several other stories came forward in the days following Wutty's death. One stated that In Rattana was killed by his own bullets that ricocheted off Wutty's car as they activist attempted to drive away; another said that In Rattana shot himself after killing Wutty. Critics believe that the rapid dismissal of the case proves that there is a cover-up going on. [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com, October 08, 2012]

"Many of the officials who benefit from illegal trade, illegal logging, and illegal trade of timbers, were not happy with [Chut Wutty]," Ou Virak the head of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (Adhoc) said as reported by the Voice of America. "And, because of that, I don't think there's any desire by the government and people in power to investigate." Wutty's family members have also expressed disbelief at the current story. "It was the ringleader of the illegal logging operations that ordered my husband killed," Wutty's wife, Sam Chanthy, told Radio Free Asia. "I don’t think In Rattana wanted to kill my husband."

Journalist Investigating Illegal Logging Found Dead in the Trunk of a Car

Exposing the rampant logging trade in Cambodia has increasingly become a deadly business. In September 2012, journalist Hang Serei Oudom, who had been covering deforestation in remote Ratanakiri province, was found dead in the trunk of his car, likely beaten to death with an axe. Then a few weeks later another journalist, Ek Sokunthy, was nearly beaten to death in his home by three assailants; Sokunthy had written about illegal logging the month before.

Jeremy Hance of mongabay.com wrote: “Less than five months after high-profile forest activist, Chut Wutty, was killed in Cambodia, an environmental journalist,Hang Serei Oudom, has been found slain in the trunk of his car, possibly murdered with an ax, reports the AFP. Oudum, who worked at the local paper Vorakchun Khmer Daily, was known for writing stories on epidemic of illegal logging in Cambodia, often linking the crime to business people and politicians. The car and body were found in a cashew nut plantation in Ratanakiri province, an area rife with logging. "Before he was murdered, other journalists had warned him not to write critically about the forest crimes," Pen Bonnar, with The Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (Adhoc), told AFP. [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com , September 13, 2012]

Oudom was last seen by his wife Sunday evening when he told her he was going to a meeting and would be back shortly. He was found with wounds to the head that police say are consistent with an ax or baton. "There is a lot of money at stake. These are well-equipped, well-financed groups of individuals," Ou Virak, president of Adhoc, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). "These illegal loggers will certainly do what they can to protect their interests, including killing of activists trying to stop them."

Virachey National Park, located in Ratanakiri Province, where Oudum was found dead, is plagued by logging and threatened by mining. In 2011 it was stripped of 9,000 hectares for a rubber plantation. According to author and explorer, Greg McCann, Virachey has been largely abandoned by conservation groups even though it is home to "jaw-dropping" landscapes and may still be home to a number of important species like tigers.

Two weeks after Hang Serei Oudom was found murdered in the trunk of his car, another journalist has been brutally attacked in Cambodia. Ek Sokunthy with the local paper Ta Prum says he was beaten in his home by three assailants by a pistol and a stick. Ta Prum's Phum Chesda told the Phnom Penh Post that Sokunthy had written an article on illegal logging last month. Sokunthy received three death threats after publishing the article. [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com , September 27, 2012]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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