Conservation International (CI) country director Seng Bunra said Timber Green had been employing villagers to cut logs within the dam area, but denied they had expanded logging into the forest area his organisation is tasked with protecting. This [company] in Thma bang district in Koh Kong [they] only clear on the reservoir, he said. He claims that a small number of individual workers had then gone on to illegally clear logs in the CCPF by themselves. However, the reaction of military officials to the photographing of illegal logs suggests a coordinated operation is being tightly controlled by a single company.
At 11.25pm on Sunday, five military personnel, two carrying assault rifles, stepped out of a Toyota Camry with no licence plates and surrounded two Phnom Penh Post journalists who had just photographed a pick-up truck inside the CCPF that was packed with young rosewood. They claimed it was illegal to take shots of the vehicles because they belonged to a private company.
After demanding the photographer clear one of his memory cards, the men returned and passed a mobile phone to Chut Wutty, who entered into a protracted and heated conservation with a man he says identified himself as the security chief of the company Timber Green. When a Post reporter called the man s phone and asked if he was the security chief of Timber Green, the man asked what s wrong? and hung up when questioned further. Timber Green is not publicly listed and could not be reached for comment.
Just outside of Russey Chrum village, five military police and forestry administration officials sat around a fire cooking tarot roots while waiting in ambush. orestry Administration ranger Sou Sophal says they were there to catch loggers, but not the trucks carrying tonnes of rosewood. Instead, they re going after individuals on motorbikes. All the trucks that transport timber are licensed, he said.
When asked which company was licensed to log in the area, Sou Sophal said: I don't know the name of the company because I am under my superior, but I think it is licensed. He added that ambushes were not even conducted at night when the overwhelming majority of trucks carrying illegal timber in Thma Bang operate.
Sou Sophal's patrol group are part of a CI-coordinated protection program that incorporates the Forestry Administration and military police and was set up inside the CCPF in 2000 and officially recognised through a sub decree in 2002. The anonymous researcher alleges that officials working with CI stationed at a checkpoint on road 48 the only avenue out of Thma Bang are allowing trucks carrying rosewood to drive straight through in exchange for 'taxes'.In practice they have turned a blind eye to illegal activity in the CCPF, allowing the FA and loggers to cover up and continue what is going on, for the sake of political convenience and expediency, the researcher said.
When the Phnom Penh Post interviewed CI country director Sen Bunnra, he denied that any large-scale, coordinated logging was taking place in the CCPF. I think to me, it's not true, unless the government has allowed this company to clear, he said. Normally, anywhere Conservation International works in the world, we always be very careful about the corruption, we also follow up if we suspect someone involved in the corruption.
Seng Bunra could not be reached for comment yesterday and a man answering the phone of CI regional director David Emmett hung up on a reporter before switching his phone off.
The anonymous researcher concedes CI is in a difficult position, acting against powerful individuals that have strong connections to a government intolerant of NGOs that are publicly critical, but questions at what point they become a self-defeating entity.
It's a massive challenge and it's a fine balance, but international conservation NGOs should not be "green washing" for the Cambodian government or the FA, the researcher said.
One of the key issues here, which makes the case stand out from other forest areas in Cambodia, is that you have a big international NGO that is receiving funds from international donors to protect the forest.
Meas Chan, 42, the chief of nearby Pruch village, downplayed the scale of illegal logging in his area.
When they [the company] come and want to buy [timber], if the organisation says the forest will be affected, we cannot do. But if they say it's not affected, we can do, he said. Stung Tatai is not the only dam clearance project in the Cardamom mountains in which CI has been implicated in mass illegal logging operations.
In 2009, Ouk Kim San, a Forestry Administration official working for CI, was arrested after he was caught unloading tens of thousands of dollars worth of luxury timber at the Vietnamese border in Takeo province.
The timber haul was connected to a CI forest protection program near the Stung Atai dam, where the company MDS Import Export was licensed to clear timber from the reservoir area.
Contact details for MDS, which is owned by tycoon Try Pheap, could not be found.
Jeremy Ironside, a consultant with conservation group Flora and Fauna International who has worked in Pursat province's, Som commune, since 2002, said instead of doing their job, MDS had simply cut rosewood from surrounding protected forests.
They came in on the pretense that they were going to clear the reservoir, but basically all they did was clear all the rosewood out of the forest. I didn't see any of the clearing of the reservoir, he said, adding it was not profitable for a company to clear dam sites. Since then, he alleged, nothing had changed within the organisational culture of CI or the Forestry Administration.
The close involvement of conservation organisations with resources extraction in that area is pretty astounding, he said. The anonymous researcher said between $40,000 and $80,000 worth of illegally cut timber was being trucked along four roads leading out of the CCPF from O'Som commune and Russey Chrum, Roleak Kang Cheung and Mongri villages, straight past CI checkpoints every day. If you come to Cambodia to do conservation, you might as well do conversation, the researcher said.
Conservation International explained to mongabay.com that it "does not oversee enforcement, and does not maintain or facilitate any checkpoints or rangers in or outside the CCPF."
But, noted Redd Monitor web site, Conservation International provides the money to the Forestry Administration from its Global Conservation Fund. The Global Conservation Fund receives its money from the Moore Foundation and is supposed to "finance the creation, expansion and long-term management of protected areas", according to Conservation International'“s website, supports ot maintain or facilitate any checkpoints or rangers in or outside the CCPF" and "supports on-site surveillance and enforcement systems by Conservation International's Cambodia Program to provide immediate protection for the area, which is under threat from illegal logging and hunting activities."