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The Logging Fields

Massive Government Sellout to Foreign Companies

by Anja Light

Articles appearing in The Nation, Phnom Penh Post, Bangkok Post and other regional news reports expose an alarming (but perhaps predictable) invasion by largely Malaysian logging companies into the region. The infamous Samling logging company has been highlighted in these reports - having received a 60-year, 800,000 hectare logging concession in Cambodia. The Samling Corporation has taken legal action for defamation against the Bangkok Post.

The following excerpts from an article by Tom Fawthrop in Thailand's The Nation (Dec. 15, 1995) paint a grim picture:

The Cambodian government has signed away almost all the remaining rainforest to foreign logginng companies -- even perhaps down to the last tree outside of national parks, according to the latest report by a group of environmental researchers [
The Nation, Dec 15 1995].

Fawthrop's article stressed the rapidity with which the forests have been leased to logging companies:

A document from the Ministry of Agriculture in Phnom Penh lists 30 contracts for 6.4 million hectares of precious forest which have either been recently approved or are in the pipeline and scheduled to be signed soon. Patrick Alley, a spokesman for the British NGO Global Witness, concluded: 'I cannot cite another example in the world where such a vast proportion of a country's forests have been sold in such a short time, in such great secrecy to foreign companies' [The Nation, Dec 15 1995].

According to Fawthrop, decimation of Cambodia's forests has already been appalling:

Before 1970, Cambodia boasted 17 million hectares of forest, covering 70 percent of total land area. Ministry of Agriculture figures based on the Land Cover Atlas revealed that in 1992-3 forest cover was down 10 million hectares (50% of land area).......Rampant illegal logging during the last 2 years has convinced most forestry experts that the real forest cover figures is rather less than the 6.4 million hectares awarded to the logging companies [The Nation, Dec 15 1995].

The Nation's December 15 article expressed particular concern about the Samling Corporation's activities:

The Malaysian-owned Samling Corporation signed its 60-year logging concession with the Royal Cambodian Government (RGOC) in August 1984 [The Nation, Dec 15 1995].

According to Fawthrop, Samling's record in Sarawak was somewhat less than ideal:

Environmental damage by Samling Corporation in Sarawak gained international headlines.Ancestral homelands were plundered, and protesting tribes-people were rounded up by security forces [The Nation, Dec 15 1995].

Fawthrop found assurances from one of Cambodia's prime ministers far from convincing:

Given the international notoriety usually associated with Samling's vast logging operations in Sarawak, just where did the first prime minister of Cambodia get the astounding notion that the same company received an international proficiency certificate for enviromental concern? [The Nation, Dec 15 1995].

Samling, on the other hand, appears to be proud of its record in Sarawak:

[Henry] Kong, Samling's key man in Phnom Penh referred to their "very fine operation in Sarawak" and he informed The Nation that "they would be exporting the same techniques to Cambodia although there may be some differences in harvesting intensity [The Nation, Dec 15 1995].

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