PHNOM PENH-World Bank and Cambodian officials have discovered rampant illegal logging in a protected Cambodian national park that the World Bank and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have spent millions of dollars to preserve, RFA's Khmer service reports.

The team of World Bank representatives and northern Rattanakiri and Stung Trang provincial authorities discovered the illegal logging after it conducted a fly-over inspection May 11-12.

Global Witness photo

They documented large piles of logs and truck tracks in the "Dragon's Tail" region of Virachey National Park in Rattanakiri Province. The park is one of Asia's largest protected areas and encompasses 10,800 hectares.

The World Bank and WWF gave Cambodia's Environment Ministry nearly U.S. $5 million to manage and protect Virachey National Park from 2000-2005. Specifically, the money is earmarked for preserving forest communities in the park, paying forestry guards to manage the area, planting border markers, and protecting medicinal trees.

The fly-over inspection followed a report last month by the Cambodian Environment Ministry. It said the logs were transported to Vietnamacross the Cambodian-Lao border and heading toward Route 18 in Vietnam. It also cited multiple border officials and park ran gers who it said were directly involved in the illegal operation.

"Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the establishment of an inter-ministerial committee to investigate the matter and find the culprits," Cambodian Environment Ministry Undersecretary of State Thoek Kroeunvuttha told RFA's Khmer service.

The inter-ministerial committee will comprise representatives of the Cambodian ministries of defense, interior, agriculture and forestry, and environment, as well as from the council of ministers. Members are to draft a paper outlining committee duties and objectives and submitted to Hun Sen for approval.

Meanwhile, the director of the national park, Koy Sokha, was removed from his post June 15 and the Environment Ministry is seeking a temporary replacement pending an investigation, Thoek Kroeunvuttha said.

Global Witness photo

Despite multiple reports of illegal logging in the area, Rattanakiri provincial forest administrative bureau chief Khorn Saret told RFA the terrain where the logging occurred was rough and almost impregnable.

"When I conducted an inspection, agents told me the logs were cut in Laos's Attapeu Province and not in our territory. We could not even go to the site because the terrain is terrible," Khorn Saret said.

Last week Vietnamese authorities rejected a request by a delegation of Cambodian officials to inspect stockpiles of what they say are illegal Cambodian logs in the Vietnamese jungle, Thoek Kroeunvuttha said.

The environmental watchdog Global Witness issued a report in May warning of widespread illegal logging activities in Mondolkiri and Kratie provinces, but the Cambodian government denied the allegations.

A Global Witness official told RFA that the watchdog has also been following the illegal logging in Virachey National Park for some time.

"[We learned] they felled trees in Cambodia and transported them to the Lao side of the border, where they stamped the logs as Lao logs before exporting them to Vietnam," the source said. "After expenses, the illegal loggers made over U.S.$300,000 in profit." #####


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