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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 21:47 GMT 22:47 UK
Battling Cambodia's illegal timber trade
Shipments of timber
All commercial logging has already been banned
test hello test
The BBC's David Loyn
By David Loyn
BBC world affairs correspondent
line

The Cambodian Government has been coming under increasing pressure to crack down on illegal logging.

The country depends on international support for development, and when its principal donors meet in Phnom Penh next month, they could demand tougher penalties against illegal loggers as a condition of new money.

Cambodian tree burning
Critics say no thought is given to conservation
Some diplomats are pressing for logging concessions to be revoked.

The failure of logging companies to introduce proper forest management plans last year led to a complete ban on all commercial logging in January.

Despite this, monitors from the British-based non-governmental organisation Global Witness are still uncovering examples of illegal logging, particularly in the massive Prey Long forest to the north-east of the capital.

Investigation

This is one of the last big lowland evergreen forests left on the mainland of South-east Asia, but attempts to have it protected as a Unesco World Heritage site have failed.

Global Witness has a unique status in Cambodia. Under a scheme financed mostly by Britain's Department for International Development, it formally monitors the efforts of the government to crack down on illegal logging.

But, since the government's forestry inspectors rarely go out to find wrongdoers themselves, in practice the role of Global Witness has been to investigate and expose illegal logging.

They are frequently blocked by felled trees or vehicles put in their path, which the government's forestry inspectors never clear out of the way.

Corruption

They have faced threats and, recently, their director Eva Galabaru was beaten up on the street outside the organisation's office in Phnom Penh.

logging in Papua New Guinea
The problem of unchecked logging is rife throughout the region
Allegations of widespread corruption and payoffs to the forestry inspectors were not denied by a senior figure in the logging industry who I spoke to in Phnom Penh.

The word he used was 'collaboration', and he said that it was not surprising since the foresters earn only around $250 a year.

During a weekend visit to the forest with Global Witness, I saw widespread evidence of trees that had been recently been cut down despite the ban.

There was also a considerable loss of so-called resin trees, which are supposed to be protected by Cambodian law.

These trees are tapped by villagers. The resin - which is used in Western cosmetics as well as having traditional local uses - is the only source of cash income for people who do not have enough land to grow food.

'Raping the forest'

One of the resin tappers, Noa Phal, told me that he cannot protect all his trees, and always expects to walk into the forest and find them gone.

He lost one leg to a Khmer Rouge land mine and cannot do any other work.

The Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen came to Tumring in the heart of the Prey Long forest last year, and promised that resin trees would be protected.

But they are still being cut down.

Marcus Handtke from Global Witness says that what is happening now is a "quick rape of the forest" with no thought of conservation or the sustainable industries maintained by people living there.

He condemns the attempt to replace part of the forest with a rubber plantation, which he says is an excuse to clear more trees from the land.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Loyn
"The laws do not seem to be working"
See also:

03 Apr 02 | Sci/Tech
Forest survey shows big holes
23 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Illegal loggers resort to violence
30 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Illegal logging boom in Cambodia
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