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Friday, 28 June, 2002, 22:55 GMT 23:55 UK
Cambodia cracks down on illicit timber
Shipments of timber
There is widespread violation of logging rules in Cambodia
The BBC's David Loyn

The Cambodian Government has withdrawn a licence from a logging company for the first time.

The decision to revoke the licence - held by the Malaysian GAT corporation - follows the annual meeting of Cambodia's international donors and the World Bank, who have put pressure on the government to act.

The loss of Cambodia's rainforests has been highlighted by the environmental group Global Witness who have a unique legal responsibility to monitor the state of logging in Cambodia.

Cambodian tree burning
This is the first logging licence to be revoked
When I travelled recently into the GAT concession area in the Prey Long forest, I saw widespread violations of the rules which are designed to preserve the forest and the way of life of the people who live there.

There were crude attempts to conceal the law-breaking from the eyes of investigators, while government forestry inspectors appeared to have been paid off to look the other way.

This is the largest remaining area of evergreen forest on mainland Southeast Asia, and campaigners have been wanting to give it UN protection as a World Heritage site.

But already parts of it have become so degraded that the land is being cleared to be exploited as a rubber plantation, although the decline in the world rubber price means that this policy makes little commercial sense.

Vested interests

The real test of the government's intent will come now. Cambodian law requires that if logging licences are revoked then the forest should be protected and not handed out again for logging.

Logging in Papua New Guinea
The potential profits of logging are huge
The indigenous people who have depended on the forest for centuries will be hoping that at least here they can be left in peace.

They harvest resin from the trees, which they have traditionally used to fuel torches and seal boats, and which has increasing international value as the basis of "essential oils".

But despite a promise by Prime Minister Hun Sen last year that the resin trees would be protected, I saw clear evidence of their widespread destruction.

Global Witness has welcomed the withdrawal of GAT's licence.

"This is the first time that the government has cancelled a commercially viable timber concession, and the prime minister in particular should be applauded for such decisive action," the group stated.

Global Witness have appealed for other logging concessions to be withdrawn as well, to send the message that illegal logging is no longer acceptable.

But the potential profits in logging are huge, and mostly gained by the ruling elite and the Cambodian military.

These vested interests make it unlikely that any other concessions will be withdrawn without further clear evidence of violations.

See also:

16 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
23 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
30 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
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