US program failed to prevent Cambodia logging

Deforestation in Cambodia accelerated at higher rate than anywhere else in world between 2011 and 2014

US program failed to prevent Cambodia logging

World Bulletin / News Desk

Resin trees in supposedly protected forest areas are being felled at an “alarming” rate, a leading Cambodian activist has said, alleging that a U.S.-run protection program has failed to prevent such logging.

Ouch Leng, the chairman of Cambodia Human Rights Task Forces, won this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize for his work advocating for the protection of Cambodia’s fast-dwindling forest areas.

He said in a statement Thursday that his monitoring group had observed resin trees being cut “to supply company sawmills” and in response to growing local and international demand for first-and second-grade timber “since rosewood and other luxury timber species have been severely overharvested in recent years”.

He alleged that the illegal timber trade continues with the facilitation of the country’s forestry administration “while transporters are protected by armed forces along the road.”

“We found at least five sawmills continue to operate inside economic and social land concession after the announcement to stop illegal logging by Government of Cambodia, and also launder timber sourced from the protected areas… and many community forests supported by USAid/Winrock,” Leng said.

“Transports of sawn timber are conducted openly to supply depots around Cambodia and some are reportedly destined for export.”

Leng said an estimated 80 percent of resin trees have been felled illegally in community forests, which indigenous groups rely upon, and he forecast that “resin trees will be completely wiped out by company activities inside the Prey Lang section of Preah Vihear province” over the next six months.

“Timber laundering by licensed sawmill operations is the main cause of loss of resin trees and a major threat to the newly declared protected areas. USAID, as well as the government, have so far failed to address this problem,” he said.

USAID provides funding to what is known as the Supporting Forests and Biodiversity project (SFB), which U.S. non-profit Winrock is a partner in running.

SFB chief of party Curtis Hundley declined to comment to Anadolu Agency on Thursday

The USAID office in Phnom Penh referred questions to the U.S. Embassy, which referred questions to the USAID offices in Washington.

Questions were sent to Washington, but a response had not been received by 5 p.m. (0900GMT) Thursday.

Keo Omaliss, director of the department of wildlife and biodiversity at the Forestry Administration, said in a message that protected areas fell under the remit of the Ministry of Environment.

Meanwhile, Cambodia Environment Ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap could not be reached, n'or could Ouch Leng.

Last year, Global Forest Watch said deforestation in Cambodia had accelerated at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world between 2011 and 2014, and that Cambodia “lost four times the area of tree cover in 2014 as it did in 2001”.

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