Cambodia – Logging in South-East Asia – Rubber barons

from The Economist..

May 18, 2013 | O PREAS, CAMBODIA

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 ALONG Route 7 in Cambodia’s remote north, dozens of small tractors known as “iron buffaloes” are plying a dilapidated piece of highway. Under cover of darkness, they transport freshly cut timber into nearby sawmills. The drivers wear masks, their tractors fitted with just one dim lamp at the front. Each carries between three and six logs which locals say were felled illegally on or near the Dong Nai rubber plantation, owned by Vietnam Rubber Group (VRG).

Illegal logging and land-grabbing have long been problems in Cambodia. A new report entitled “Rubber Barons” by Global Witness, a London-based environmental watchdog, has highlighted the issue once again. Dong Nai features prominently in the report, which claims that luxury timbers like rosewood, much in demand for furniture in China and guitars in the West, were culled as a 3,000-hectare (7,400-acre) section of forest was illegally cleared.


The report says that the two companies have failed to consult local communities or pay them compensation for land they formerly used. The companies routinely use armed security forces to guard plantations. Large areas of supposedly protected intact forest have been cleared, in violation of forest-protection laws and “apparently in collusion with Cambodia’s corrupt elite”.


Kut Mau, a 23-year-old father of five, says his complaints against the Vietnamese operators of Dong Nai prompted a visit from a special unit of youth volunteers, who are part of an attempt by Hun Sen, Cambodia’s prime minister, to resolve the ongoing disputes.


Mr Kut Mau says he had been granted two hectares under the restitution programme. “I was lucky,” he says. “Hundreds of families got nothing and have left.” The few villagers living inside the perimeter of Dong Nai, 20km (12.5 miles) from the small town of O Preas, confirmed the tale. At one cluster of shacks, members of three families admitted they were farming illegally…

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