A joint petition sent by Cambodian civil society groups to the European Union has urged the EU not to sign an agreement with Vietnam governing the international trade in timber until Vietnam ends its support of illegal logging in Cambodia.
Now banned under Cambodian law, the continuing export of timber into Vietnam is “facilitated by corrupt officials on both sides of the border,” the Oct. 10 petition says, adding that timber illegally harvested and smuggled from Cambodia is now openly advertised on the internet.
“Even more alarming is the policy by Vietnam to provide necessary paperwork and the veneer of legality to basically all Cambodian timber that crosses the border, in disregard of legality criteria, thereby legitimizing and ‘laundering’ massive amounts of illegal timber,” the petition says.
“There is apparently no willingness by the Vietnamese authorities to assist Cambodia in enforcing forestry laws and export regulations,” the petition adds, while urging EU authorities to postpone the signing, scheduled later this month, of a Voluntary Partnership Agreement.
The agreement, made under the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) process, verifies signers’ willingness to comply with efforts to combat illegal logging and promote and strengthen sustainable forestry.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service on Tuesday, Cambodia Youth Network (CYN) director Tim Malay, a signer of the petition, said that illegal logging in Cambodia has deprived the country of millions of dollars in collected tax and is quickly destroying the country’s forests.
“Income has also been lost, as our forests are the shared property of the Cambodian people, and especially of the indigenous people,” Tim Malay said. “It is also destroying the quality of the environment and affecting climate change.”
Also speaking to RFA, environmental activist Heng Sros said that investigations of illegal logging carried out during the last year have shown the involvement of “a number of tycoons” in the export of harvested timber from Cambodia.
“The state must put a stop to this problem,” Heng Sros said, adding that loggers and their business partners have “threatened us, shot us, and detained us, but we’ve managed so far to escape from their harassment.”
Promise of cooperation
Reached for comment on Oct. 16, Neath Pheaktra—secretary of state and spokesperson—refused to discuss the petition sent to the EU, but said that Cambodian authorities would “continue to cooperate” with Vietnam in cracking down on the illegal timber trade.
“We are working on this issue every day to preserve our natural resources and manage biodiversity,” Neth Pheaktra said.
“Relevant authorities will continue to cooperate with Vietnam to take measures against the illegal exporting of timber from Cambodia,” he said.
“The Cambodian government is absolutely against the export of timbers to Vietnam,” added Cambodian government spokesperson Phay Siphan, speaking to RFA on Oct. 16.
“The Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already sent diplomatic notes to Vietnam to oppose the illegal export of timber. This is our government’s intention. And if any Cambodian officials are found to be involved [in the illegal businesses], they will be held responsible before the law,” he said.
In May 2017, a report by the U.K.-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said that around 300,000 cubic meters of timber—including endangered rosewood—had been smuggled out of protected areas in Cambodia to Vietnam with the help of local authorities through some U.S. $13 million paid in bribes between November 2016 and March 2017.
Laos, another neighbor of Vietnam losing its forests to smuggling, has been in talks with the EU about tightening controls on the timber trade.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Vanrith Chrea. Written in English by Richard Finney.