Illegal logging of staggering proportions in Cambodia, abetted by military personnel is decimating stocks of luxury rosewood in the Central Cardamom Protected Forest, while the conservation group tasked with protecting the area and its government counterparts deny the trade is even happening.

The case was highlated by the Phnom Penh Post, whose journalist reported in just one night at least nine industrial transport trucks, seven pick-up trucks and one Land Rover packed with timber drive out of Koh Kong province's Thma Bang district in the CCPF on one road alone. Large numbers of trucks could also be heard using a nearby connecting road. Several of the trucks that the Post was able to inspect closely were carrying heavy loads of illegal rosewood.

Ten years ago the Cardamom forest was already plagued by massive illegal logging of palissandro, and the government sent the army to crack down the illegal trade.

Now, according to villagers, loggers and conservationists, Forestry Administration officials, military officers and rangers working in partnership with Conservation International are making no effort to stop the massive trade in protected rosewood. In many cases, it is alleged, they are actively profiting.

Thuy Pet, 50, a former soldier from military division 5 now living in Thma Bang district's Russey Chrum village, estimated that during peak logging periods, anywhere from 80 to 90 trucks carried timber out of the protected area every night. "I think nobody can stop this until they finish. When they finish, they will go to another area," he said. Another villager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that about 2,000 people were now logging in the area.

Residents used to be farmers, but now they've become loggers because of money he said.

Chut Wutty, director of the Natural Resources Protection Group, estimates that tens of thousands of dollars worth of rosewood, which fetches between US$5,000 and $8,000 per cubic metre, is being transported out of Thma Bang district every day.

This area is the last area in Cambodia [with any rosewood]. They ve destroyed Ratanakkiri, Mondulkiri, Bokor National Park, Pursat   after that, they went to O Som [commune]. After that, they went to Thma Bang,  he said.

In four or five months, stocks of rosewood would be exhausted in Thma Bang district, at which point, previous experience suggests, the loggers will turn their attention to lower grades of timber, Chut Wutty said.


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