ELC in Nature Preserve Is Illegal, Government Spokesman Says

An “unofficial” land concession granted earlier this year to an agro-industry firm that has logged luxury hardwood in Ratanakkiri province’s Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary is in violation of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s 2012 moratorium on new economic land concessions (ELCs), a government spokesman said Tuesday. Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said Daun Penh Agrico Co. Ltd.’s new land concession contravenes Mr. Hun Sen’s May 2012 ban on the issuing of new ELCs, which are widely blamed for the country’s rapid deforestation. … Local officials and human rights workers have alleged that the company has engaged in systematic felling of protected tree species, including rosewood, on its newly acquired land inside the sanctuary. The logged trees have then been processed into timber for sale and export at a sawmill located inside the company’s first ELC, they alleged. … According to the company’s website, Daun Penh Agrico is a subsidiary of the Daun Penh (Cambodia) Group, which is overseen by the AZ Group, a conglomerate founded in 1993 by Ing Bun Haow, a former CPP secretary of state at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport. Mr. Bun Haow declined to comment on Daun Penh Agrico. Thun Sarath, spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry’s Forestry Administration, who also called the “unofficial” concession illegal, said that forestry officials would not investigate the logging operation unless directly authorized to do so by the Ratanakkiri Provincial Court. … Try Pheap Import Export was granted the exclusive right to purchase all timber felled in Ratanakkiri by the Agriculture Ministry in February. Pen Bonnar, senior investigator at Adhoc, which last week received a complaint about rampant logging in the Lumphat sanctuary from 124 ethnic Lao families living in the area, said that many firms holding pre-2012 ELCs in Ratanakkiri are clearing forest at an unprecedented rate and selling the timber to Try Pheap

Aun Pheap and Ben Woods