A rights group called on the Cambodian government Friday to cancel land licenses for two Vietnamese companies which the group said had illegally logged forests and smuggled timber to Vietnam.
The two companies, Dai Dong Yoeun and Seventy-Two, had received licenses from the government to develop agricultural projects in northeastern Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province, but had been illegally clearing forests, said the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC).
Ratanakiri authorities, who have led a campaign to crack down on timber smuggling, had charged seven Vietnamese employees of the two companies with illegal logging last month.
But this week, local villagers and ADHOC, which had worked with residents to bring the illegal logging to light, found evidence of attempted smuggling of logs to Vietnam, the group said in a statement Friday.
They had also uncovered storage areas where nearly 3,000 logs were still being kept, it said.
“On January 1, 2013, ADHOC staff together with members of Lom community followed up on the Dai Dong Yoeun and Seventy-Two case and discovered storage areas where approximately 3,000 logs were kept, nearby the Cambodia-Vietnam border,” according to the statement.
“We also discovered evidence of daily removal and exports of logs.”
ADHOC welcomed the authorities' efforts to stop the illegal logging, but said more needs to be done and called on the government to revoke the two companies’ land licenses.
“ADHOC calls on the Royal Government of Cambodia to immediately cancel the concessions granted to Dai Dong Yoeun and Seventy-Two and to initiate legal proceedings against them,” the group said.
Latt Ky, the head of ADHOC’s land and natural resources program, said the government should revoke the land concession licenses because the companies had breached their terms by logging.
“I urge the government to immediately suspend the two companies’ actions and to revoke their licenses,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
He added that the Cambodian government should investigate authorities in Ratanakiri and elsewhere for allowing mass forest destruction in the province.
According to ADHOC, the two companies had exploited their economic land concession licenses to log thousands of trees in an area that was designated as protected forest and owned collectively by members of the indigenous Jarai community.
The companies had begun clearing forest areas in 2012 and had exported timber to Vietnam through the Phom Krahorm and Phom Thmorda checkpoints, according to the group.
The seven Vietnamese nationals working for the companies who were arrested over the case were charged on Dec. 22 and are being held in Ratanakiri provincial prison awaiting trial.
But ADHOC said it remains concerned about illegal logging in the area.
“Despite [the] positive developments, ADHOC remains concerned about the situation in Ratanakiri, as many land and mining concessionaires engage in widespread logging… and export logs across the border.”
Ratanakiri Governor Pao Ham Phan refused to comment on ADHOC’s call to revoke the licenses, but accused the group of siding with political parties opposed to the government and turning the issues into a political statement.
“They have been acting as part of the opposition all along,” Pao Ham Phan said.
“Those people don’t understand that land concession is development.”
Reported by Sonorng Khe for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.