Gov’t releases data on timber baron’s deal

19 Sep

By Daniel Pye, The Phnom Penh Post, 19 September 2014

Tycoon Try Pheap has collected an estimated 1,500 cubic metres of timber from Forestry Administration offices since the government in July issued his companies permission to confiscate “waste wood” from their offices and from the Ministry of Environment, according to preliminary government figures obtained by the Post yesterday.

An unknown amount of wood held at facilities run by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Ministry of Environment was given to Pheap’s MDS Import Export Company and MDS Thmodar SEZ Company in a letter from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet on July 24.

The decision followed a similar order in 2013, in which Pheap paid about $3.4 million for the right to collect nearly 5,000 cubic metres of luxury timber from the Forestry Administration.

“More than 1,500 cubic metres was confiscated so far since [the] order [was signed],” Forestry Admin­istration director Chheng Kimsun said, adding that official figures had not yet been calculated.

Bun Uy, a secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, issued letters to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Ministry of Environment in late July, saying that Pheap’s firms had to destroy some of the timber but were allowed to export whatever remained.

While the wood was classified as “waste wood” by the government in order to justify the handover, a significant portion of the timber held by the Forestry Administration is thought to be luxury-grade and held as evidence in criminal cases against illegal loggers.

Kimsun said that even after the official figures were collated, the amount confiscated by Pheap was likely to rise as more luxury wood was confiscated from loggers who travel across the Dangrek Mountains in northern Cambodia to illegally log in Thailand’s forested border regions.

Pheap rose to prominence as a logging baron as Cambodia switched in the early 2000s from a policy of directly issuing logging concessions to a “conversion” program in which economic land concessions were granted to Cambodian and foreign investors almost exclusively in or adjacent to heavily forested areas.

The concessions have come under heavy criticism ever since, amid allegations that they have routinely been used as a front for large-scale illegal timber extraction.

In a report released earlier this month, monitoring group Forest Trends estimated that as much as 90 per cent of timber exports from Cambodia are sourced illegally and the “main driver” is the agro-industrial conversion scheme.

In 2011, the government acknowledged in a report published by the Technical Working Group on Forestry that its own conversion policy had been the main cause of the dramatic decline in forest cover in recent years.

“The available evidence … demonstrates that most, if not all, of the deforestation taking place in Cambodia … is illegal in some way,” Forest Trends said in the report.

Prey Lang activists detain two loggers

19 Sep

By Phak Seangly, The Phnom Penh Post, 19 September 2014

Two illegal loggers were arrested by a community patrol in Prey Lang forest on Wednesday, the Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) said yesterday.

The pair was part of a group of eight loggers seen by patrollers in Kampong Thom’s Sandan district, but the rest escaped, PLCN said.

Several cubic metres of wood and a chain saw were seized.

“As soon as they saw us, they tried to escape into the forest. But we managed to arrest two of them,” said Chhum Yin, one of the patrollers.

The loggers allegedly confessed that they had been employed to log in the protected forest by a broker in Kampong Cham, who promised $62 per cubic metre of timber they delivered, he added.

Chan Chhoeun, the Dang Kambeth commune councillor, said the pair were let go after they signed a contract promising not to log again in the forest.

“If they do it again, we will take action in accordance with the law. We will not tolerate this a second time,” he said

Rampant logging in Prey Lang continues to threaten the entire forest, according to PLCN.

IDEA’s iconic leader faces dissent at party congress

19 Sep

By Pech Sotheary, The Phnom Penh Post, 19 September 2014

Panel members talk yesterday in Phnom Penh at the fourth Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association congress

Panel members talk yesterday in Phnom Penh at the fourth Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association congress. Vireak Mai

Months after Vorn Pov was released from prison, a small number of members belonging to his Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) debated yesterday whether to re-elect him as leader.

During IDEA’s fourth congress, where 200 members chose Pov – who was released from prison in May after spending months inside for his actions during a garment protest in January – a group of about 15 stood outside the Community Legal Education Center office in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district calling for a postponement.

“They’ve already selected IDEA’s leadership,” said Sok Chhun Oeung, the union’s deputy president, who led the protesters. “There have been irregularities and breaches of trust; there are problems with holding the congress now, so we ask for a delay.”

IDEA held several meetings ahead of the congress, Pov said, but it had become apparent that Oeung wanted to split the union. Pov accused Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union president Ath Thorn, vice president Kong Athit and secretary-general Ek Sopheakdey of encouraging the protest, adding that Oeung simply wanted to be president.

“Sok Chhun Oeung validated that he would divide IDEA into two in September,” Pov said. “Ath Thorn himself said if we did not agree, then IDEA should walk out of the [Cambodian Labour Confederation],” of which Thorn is president.

Thorn yesterday denied the allegation, saying he was approached by Oeung and floated the idea of splitting the union in two as a method of conflict resolution.

Oeung yesterday said he would file a motion with the Ministry of Interior to have IDEA dissolved due to a failure to follow its constitution.

Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center, who spoke at the congress, said afterwards that the union – which rose to international fame when Pov was jailed along with 22 others in connection with January’s garment worker protests – should be capitalising on its newfound influence.

“Hopefully, the internal strife can be put aside.”

Lakeside residents urge World Bank to hold loans

19 Sep

By Khouth Sophak Chakrya, The Phnom Penh Post, 19 September 2014

Activists from Boeung Kak Lake hold signs during a protest in Phnom Penh

Activists from Boeung Kak Lake hold signs during a protest in Phnom Penh yesterday, calling for the World Bank to reconsider a potential loan of $25 million for the development of land concessions. Charlotte Pert

Villagers displaced by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin’s development project at Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak Lake have called on the World Bank not to issue new loans until they have been offered adequate compensation.

The villagers marched to the office of the World Bank after hearing that the institution was considering loaning $25 million to fund the development of 15 social land concessions across the country.

Forty families say that they had not received compensation or a “just resolution” in their dispute, after being forcibly relocated under a World Bank-supported scheme to develop the lake area.

“We want to see the bank take responsibility for the victims in the Boeung Kak community,” community representative Duong Chhert, 54, told the Post.

Another villager, Phan Chhunret, said she was concerned that the new loans would not include conditions linked to a resolution of the Boeung Kak dispute.

“We are very concerned if this bank agrees to offer the new loans to the Cambodian government without any clear conditions that urge them to finish our land dispute in the Boeung Kak area,” she said.

Spokesman Bou Saroeun said the bank had not issued any new loans since a freeze took effect in December 2010 in response to the forced eviction of Boeung Kak residents.

Elderly Woman Loses Fight to Keep Land in Phnom Penh

19 Sep

By Hul Reaksmey And Laurent Crothers, The Cambodia Daily, 19 September 2014

English5

Land Communities Take On World Bank

19 Sep

By Mech Dara, The Cambodia Daily, 19 September 2014

English4

Bunong Suspend Protests Until After Pchum Ben

19 Sep

By Matt Blomberg And Oun Pheap, The Cambodia Daily, 19 September 2014

English3

Court Delay Trail of Monk, Dissident

19 Sep

By Khy Sovuthy, The Cambodia Daily, 19 September 2014

English2

Union Leader Re-Elected Despite Deputy’s Protest

19 Sep

By Ben Sokhean, The Cambodia Daily, 19 September 2014

English1

Naga eyeing institute land

17 Sep

 By Eddie Morton and Chhay Channyda, The Pnhom Penh Post, 17 September 2014

Workers from the neighbouring NagaCorp construction site demolish a section of wall at the Buddhist Institute in May

Workers from the neighbouring NagaCorp construction site demolish a section of wall at the Buddhist Institute in May. Heng Chivoan

NagaCorp, the parent company of Phnom Penh’s NagaWorld casino, has confirmed that it is eyeing land occupied by the Buddhist Institute for a new hotel development, a revelation that comes mere months after the government proclaimed in no uncertain terms that the institute was there to stay.

The expression of interest, made in a conference call with NagaCorp investors on August 7, confirms the suspicions of activist monks, but the government says no concrete proposal has come its way.

Philip Lee, chief financial officer of NagaCorp, told investors and analysts during the August conference call that the company had plans for Naga3 – a hotel without gaming operations – which, if approved, would result in relocating the Buddhist Institute not far from its current location.

“Now, it is important to note that … presently Naga3 is very much in planning. It is conceptual. We are in discussions with the authorities to develop that location,” Lee is quoted as saying in the call’s transcript, which has since been removed from the company’s website.

“So we are working – we have proposed or at least to build Naga3, which will comprise – in the centre, you see that pyramidal kind of structure.… And on the left of it, the white structure would be the new office of the Buddhist Institute.”

Yesterday, Mark Brown, chief operating officer of NagaWorld, said the company was in talks with the Cambodian government over the land.

“For Naga3, the image is our dream and does not represent actual event,” Brown told thePost via email.

“We hope we can convince the government to grant the rights of usage of the land, which unfortunately, has not been obtained yet.”

NagaCorp’s negotiations with the government over the institute’s land come as the company nears finishing its NagaWalk retail project along Sihanouk Boulevard and as construction continues on the $370 million Naga2 project, which is slated for completion in early 2017.

Both of the gaming firm’s construction sites now entirely surround the Buddhist Institute.

NagaCorp’s expansion has long fuelled rumours that the institute’s land is slowly being sold off to accommodate the casino operator’s proposals.

But Sar Sokny, acting director of the Buddhist Institute, told the Post yesterday he had not yet been approached nor was he aware of NagaCorp’s development ambitions for Naga3.

Chea Vuthy, deputy secretary-general of the Cambodian Investment Board, a department of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, which approves projects, also said he was unaware of the plans.

Seng Somony, a spokesman for the Ministry of Cult and Religion, which oversees the work of the institute, said he was too busy to comment yesterday.

In May, members of the activist Independent Monks Network, who believed that the institute would be moved, held demonstrations, basing their actions on construction at the site that the government said was part of an electricity substation.

During the march, Somony personally attempted to stop the monks, brandishing copies of documents detailing exactly what the government had agreed to with NagaCorp.

“If NagaWorld does not follow this contract, I myself will bring all of you to protest in front of NagaWorld,” he said at the time.

The substation will, however, be used to power part of the casino’s new development plans across the street, but the government hasn’t sold or leased any of its land, the ministry said.

While the protests stopped, the monks in June called on the Ministry of Cult and Religion to release all the paperwork proving that an agreement it struck with NagaCorp to help construct the substation does not involve the selling of any of the centre’s land to the casino.

Contacted yesterday, Independent Monk Network leader But Buntenh said he had heard about the Naga3 project from staffers at the institute. They allegedly told him that the new office would be moved to Chhbar Ampov district.

“If the government approves it, we will have a big protest against the land of the Buddhist Institute being sold to the gambling company,” he said.

“The ambition of them is to swallow the land step by step … and if there is no public protest or any reaction, they will grab all the land.”

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