Caught up in the middle

Sheltering under a blue tarpaulin amid dense woodland in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains, Nhean* sits and waits for night to fall after a long day scouring the protected forest for luxury timber.

He says he works for a broker who is a supplier to one of Cambodia’s most prolific logging tycoons, Try Pheap, and has journeyed across a vast area of southern Cambodia moving on to a new patch of forest when the sought-after hardwood is exhausted. …

Nhean is one of hundreds of illegal loggers who live a mobile and impermanent existence following the logging brokers, armed with chainsaws and buffalo-drawn carts.

In what amounts to a kind of unofficial franchise arrangement, loggers such as Nhean take out loans to buy equipment and in turn supply sawn rosewood, bengthnong and other luxury timber to middlemen who say they work for Pheap.

Pheap has, over the past decade, risen from relative obscurity to be one of the most prominent tycoons in Cambodia, with interests in casinos, plantations, logging, mining, hotels and real estate.

Since early 2013, his companies have been granted the rights to collect and buy timber from economic land concessions in 15 provinces, as well as all timber impounded by the Forestry Administration and Ministry of Environment. …

May Titthara