Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Loggers Use Loophole to Decimate Cambodia's Disappearing Forests POLITICS OF TIMBER

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Loggers Use Loophole to Decimate Cambodia's Disappearing Forests POLITICS OF TIMBER

Article excerpt

Once home to pristine forests that covered more than 70 percent of its territory, Cambodia may be on the verge of an ecological disaster.

Fueled by civil war, political strife, and greed, unchecked logging is contributing to the rapid disappearance of remaining woodlands.

Between 1973 and 1993, 3.6 million acres of the country's forest were lost and much of the remaining area was negatively affected, says a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). And there are few signs that the rate of deforestation has diminished. In fact, loggers are using a loophole to circumvent a recently adopted ban on timber exports from Cambodia. "The process is really out of control," says Masakazu Kashio, an official for the FAO in Bangkok. The biggest threat is to Cambodia's Tonle Sap (Great Lake), which has been described as one of the richest freshwater fishing grounds in the world. As a result of deforestation, the lake is silting up. Cambodian Environment Minister Mok Mareth warned that at the present rate, the lake could disappear within 25 years. Concerns about the government's lax logging policy led the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last year to halt a $20-million loan to Cambodia. And in response to international pressure, Cambodian officials also instituted a complete ban on the export of logs at the end of last year. But Thai loggers are taking advantage of a legal loophole in the ban by setting up sawmills in Cambodia and shipping the timber across the border as "processed" wood. Directly across the border from this Thai village a thriving weekend furniture market has sprung up. Until a few years ago this region was a stronghold of the Khmer Rouge, the Maoist revolutionaries who killed more than 1 million Cambodians during their reign of terror from 1975 to 1979. Now, a constant stream of rough-cut furniture flows past bored soldiers in what one Thai shopper described as "a mountain of wood" waiting for sale on the Cambodian side. Some 40 miles east of Chong Chom, in the Thai town of Khu Khan, a sawmill said to be on land owned by the fearsome one-legged Khmer Rouge Gen. Ta Mok sits silent. Chang Gao, who claims to run the mill, says that the place used to employ 40 workers but has been shut for eight months. …

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