- Unlawful logging seems to be happening overtly inside a swath of protected forest that authorities in Cambodia have solely approved for a feasibility research for limestone mining. Locals and conservationists say the wooden leaves the concession awarded to KP Cement within the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary and is laundered by means of sawmills owned by Suppose Biotech.
- It’s not clear why the Cambodian authorities would award a concession in the course of one of many final remaining swaths of main forest left within the nation, or why they’d give it to an organization linked to a tycoon with a protracted historical past of environmentally damaging actions.
- New knowledge from International Forest Watch present that 2021 was the worst 12 months on report for deforestation in Prey Lang, with greater than 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) of main forest misplaced in what seems to be a development of accelerating destruction.
- This story was supported by the Pulitzer Middle’s Rainforest Investigations Community the place Gerald Flynn is a fellow
PHNOM PENH — The early onset of Cambodia’s moist season had seen the rain fall thick over Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, turning freshly minimize paths by means of the forest right into a near-impassible slick of churned-up mud. However the torrential climate had completed little to discourage native loggers, who rode out of the beleaguered protected space carrying stacks of unprocessed timber on ko-yun — elongated tractors used for transporting wooden.
Over a number of days and nights in April 2022, reporters noticed a parade of ko-yun and motorbikes, all laden with a reddish timber that glinted within the rain as they handed alongside a highway that had been not too long ago carved by means of the part of Prey Lang forest that falls inside Kratie province.
A dashcam on the reporter’s automotive data timber and varied autos, together with motorbikes, ko-yun and vans, touring on a essential highway connecting to a Ministry of Setting Ranger’s station and an entry highway to KP Cement’s feasibility research space for a cement mine. Footage by Vutha Srey/Mongabay.
The highway, which satellite tv for pc imagery exhibits expanded quickly round March this 12 months and continues to chop additional into the forest as of Might, results in a newly permitted limestone mining concession inside the boundaries of the protected space. This seems to have opened up new entry factors for locals, lots of whom have seen their livelihoods diminished to unlawful logging.
However whereas the size of the logging completed by locals is tough to quantify, notably inside a protected forest that formally spans 431,683 hectares (1.07 million acres) over 4 provinces, the instant loss to the mining concession was detailed clearly in paperwork seen by Mongabay.
An organization known as KP Cement Industry was granted a 938-hectare (2,318-acre) concession inside Prey Lang’s protected space to carry out a feasibility research to ascertain whether or not the forest may very well be a viable supply of limestone — a key ingredient in cement, for which demand has skyrocketed to feed Cambodia’s construction boom.
Regardless of illegally harvested timber being transported overtly from KP Cement’s mining concession throughout highway networks main instantly out of the protected space and again previous the village of Sre Pnee, locals stated there had been minimal intervention from Ministry of Setting rangers stationed lower than 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the concession.
Whereas driving down the crudely minimize entry highway main into the protected space and on to KP Cement’s concession, reporters noticed Ministry of Setting rangers driving motorbikes with chainsaws strapped to the backs of their bikes. Nonetheless, the solitary nature of the highway meant that these rangers needed to have pushed previous at the least 4 separate teams of unlawful loggers who have been additionally driving again towards Sre Pnee on ko-yun and motorbikes full of freshly felled timber.
Native residents have instructed that rangers working with the Ministry of Setting in Kratie province have established set costs for bribes in trade for not confiscating chainsaws, ko-yun and different logging tools.
However one of many largest remaining lowland evergreen forests in mainland Southeast Asia seems to be collateral harm in KP Cement’s obvious quest to mine limestone from the protected space. Whereas a geological analysis of the area means that it’s certainly wealthy in limestone, the choice to grant a mining concession inside one of many nation’s most contentious protected forests was one which Neth Pheaktra, spokesperson for the Ministry of Setting, declined to totally clarify.
“Cambodia has the complete rights to handle its sources to serve the nationwide curiosity and her folks in compliance with relevant authorized and technical requirements,” he stated.
When requested of the environmental fallout anticipated from KP Cement’s operation that includes felling 938 hectares of forest to mine for limestone, Pheaktra stated that “The working firm had been approved to conduct analysis within the space, and can put together detailed studies on environmental and social impression assessments, which may also embrace session with local people too.”
He declined to remark additional on whether or not an environmental impression evaluation or group session had taken place earlier than the corporate started bulldozing bushes, constructing roads and extracting limestone samples.
Pheaktra additionally declined to touch upon satellite tv for pc imagery that exhibits logging routes increasing out nicely past the concession’s authorized borders, nor would he touch upon KP Cement’s possession.
Timber tycoon will get the go-ahead
KP Cement is one in all at the least 10 ventures that fall below the Chhay Chingheang Group, though the precise variety of corporations working below the group’s banner is tough to know as the corporate’s web site, which was absolutely operational previous to reporters sending questions on Might 3, seems to have been taken down as not too long ago as Might 7. By Might 12, the company’s website redirected to a upkeep web page, promising “We’ll be again quickly!”
The Chhay Chingheang Group is owned by little-known Cambodian-Chinese language businessman Chhay Chingheang, a person whose professional relations reach as far as Hun Kimleng, a niece of Prime Minister Hun Sen who’s married to Neth Savoeun, Cambodia’s Nationwide Police commissioner.
Each Kimleng and Savoeun have been embroiled within the Cypriot “golden passport” scheme after, which noticed them funding least 2 million euros (round $2.1 million) in Cyprus in 2016 for citizenship of the EU member state. It’s unclear whether or not the 2 have been among the many eight Cambodians who saw their Cypriot passports revoked following the investigation by Reuters.
Along with doing enterprise with Kimleng, Chingheang additionally directs a company called Angkârmeas. One of many different administrators past Chingheang’s spouse is King Vannak, brother-in-law to Kun Kim, a former senior normal within the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces who, alongside together with his household community, was hit with Magnitsky sanctions by the U.S. Division of the Treasury’s Workplace of International Property Management in December 2019 for his function in land grabs and corruption.
King Vannak, himself a former Forestry Administration official in Kampong Thom province, was named in June 2007 by corruption watchdog Global Witness as a key facilitator in unlawful logging, allegedly taking funds from timber magnates on behalf of his brother-in-law. He presently serves as deputy governor of the province of Banteay Meanchey in Cambodia’s northeastern area, which borders Thailand.
A number of makes an attempt to succeed in Chingheang by means of firm contact data on the Ministry of Commerce’s data have been met with silence. When reporters known as the Chhay Chingheang Group’s head workplace in Phnom Penh, a number of receptionists claimed to not have any contact particulars for his or her employer.
However whereas Chingheang himself was unable or unwilling to remark, his previous endeavors in Cambodia’s extractive industries have seen him dabble in timber, oil and sand — largely for export to Vietnam and Singapore. His corporations even have a historical past of environmentally destructive and legally questionable projects in Ratanakiri province.
The Chhay Chingheang Group got here below investigation by the Ministry of Mines and Vitality in 2016 after successful a sand mining contract within the northeastern province of Ratanakiri, however the license was suspended after the corporate was discovered to be illegally operating beyond the restrictions of its license, with investigations indicating the corporate was in truth mining for gold.
Based on paperwork seen by Mongabay, KP Cement was granted the concession inside Prey Lang with approval from Suy Sem, the minister of mines and power, on March 3, 2022. Given the Chhay Chingheang Group’s historical past of flouting concession rules, it’s unclear why the ministry permitted this newest mining expedition inside a protected space. Heng Kunleang, spokesperson for the Ministry of Mines and Vitality, didn’t reply to questions.
Gutting the forest to feed Suppose Biotech
Whereas the reasoning for entrusting 938 hectares of protected forest to Chhay Chingheang stays unknown, what is obvious is that satellite tv for pc imagery exhibits logging routes are spreading all through — and past — KP Cement’s concession at a fast tempo.
Tong Jeang, a resident of a village close to the KP Cement concession, stated he was conscious of a brand new mining operation that sprang up in current months round an space that Indigenous communities name Kambor Chroung. This sacred website is claimed to deal with a Neak Ta, a religious land guardian that watches over the rocky outcrop so that individuals can meditate, give choices and maintain annual ceremonies to honor their ancestors.
“I don’t know the title of the corporate working, however they’re bulldozing the forest towards the realm and touring by means of Kampong Cham commune,” Jeang stated. “There are many small autos transporting timber — no huge vans — however because of the mud, they paused the timber transport heading to Suppose Biotech’s concession.”
Regardless of the rain and the mud, Jeang stated he sees between 25 and 50 ko-yun transporting bushes from the mine in Kambor Chroung to Suppose Biotech every single day, with every ko-yun in a position to carry as a lot as 2 cubic meters (71 cubic ft) of timber, every of which Suppose Biotech reportedly buys for $100.
“The forest loss has brought about many impacts,” he added.
To many residents in Kratie province, Suppose Biotech is synonymous with logging. The South Korean firm was awarded a 34,000-hectare (84,000-acre) concession in 2011, regardless of Cambodian legislation proscribing concessions to 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) per firm, to ascertain tree plantations to serve the timber trade. The concept was to scale back unlawful logging in Prey Lang, however irregularities quickly piled up.
First, Suppose Biotech’s sawmill was granted a 15-year license to function in 2013, in comparison with the standard single-year licenses given to sawmills. However the concession, which Think Biotech reportedly agreed to pay $89.3 million for over a 25-year period, bumped into bother when South Korean traders pulled out in December 2018.
Suppose Biotech then fell into the arms of Taiwanese logging magnate Lu Chu Chang, who additionally serves as a director at Angkor Plywood — a wood-processing firm with services throughout Kampong Thom, Kampong Cham and Kratie provinces — the place activists say timber is offered as soon as laundered by means of the Suppose Biotech plantation.
The Kratie Provincial Forestry Administration, a division inside the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, is responsible for managing the sale of timber in Cambodia, together with checking that the supply, quantity and high quality matches as much as what Suppose Biotech is licensed to reap. However Solar Bou, chief administrator of the Kratie Provincial Forestry Administration, couldn’t be reached to substantiate whether or not appropriate protocols have been being adopted. Activists have ceaselessly accused officers of wanting the opposite means whereas Suppose Biotech launders the forest by means of its concession.
Concurrently clearing in KP Cement’s concession grew to become seen on satellite tv for pc imagery, so too did a brand new highway main out of Suppose Biotech’s concession that, as of Might 2022, has reached the limestone mine, additional suggesting that the 2 corporations have some type of association.
The paperwork confirming KP Cement’s concession don’t state whether or not the corporate, or a separate one, has the fitting to reap the timber from the 938-hectare plot. However when a concession is granted in a protected space, it falls to the Ministry of Setting to handle the concession. As a result of logging alternatives introduced by Suppose Biotech’s concession, rangers and local officials within the Ministry of Environment are believed to take pleasure in shut ties to the corporate.
Reporters noticed 4 excavators and a bulldozer in a single small section of KP Cement’s concession, suggesting that forest clearing is going on at an industrial charge. Nonetheless, native accounts recommend timber from KP Cement’s concession is transported by native loggers to promote in Suppose Biotech’s concession.
One ko-yun driver, who requested anonymity as he drove from a village inside the Suppose Biotech concession alongside the highway connecting to KP Cement’s concession, stated that many individuals within the village go online behalf of Suppose Biotech. The apply is well-documented by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which, till June 2021, operated the $21 million Greening Prey Lang conservation challenge that was canceled as a consequence of ongoing large-scale unlawful logging. USAID, nonetheless, pledged that funding can be redirected from the federal government to native communities and activists.
USAID’s annual studies spotlight the means by means of which concessionaires akin to Suppose Biotech are in a position to exploit native populations to interact in unlawful logging, giving the businesses believable deniability in return and additional obfuscating the supply of the timber they promote.
“This gives the proper atmosphere for trespass logging into protected areas for luxurious and uncommon tree species and for bushes that may be transformed into plywood,” USAID wrote in its third annual report.
The identical report detailed 29 communications despatched from USAID Greening Prey Lang, principally to the Ministry of Setting and its provincial departments, but in addition to USAID Cambodia, that have been supposed to sound the alarm on unlawful logging and deforestation. Of the 29 communiqués USAID Greening Prey Lang despatched out, at the least 11 expressed concern over Suppose Biotech’s exercise.
When reached for remark, Suppose Biotech director Lu Chu Chang stated he was in hospital in Taiwan and directed inquiries to Michelle Chang (no relation), whose function inside the firm was not made clear. Michelle Chang confirmed that logging was a chief supply of the corporate’s revenue, however stated that this solely happened inside Suppose Biotech’s 34,000-hectare concession.
However whereas Michelle Chang additionally denied buying timber from past their concession, she couldn’t element what checks have been in place to ensure the supply of the wooden bought. She additionally went on to recommend that the industrial-size highway that, in early Might 2022, linked Suppose Biotech’s concession to that of KP Cement might have been constructed by locals. The highway is roughly 30 meters (almost 100 ft) at its widest level, in accordance with satellite tv for pc imagery estimates, which is in stark distinction to the slim, winding highway linking Sre Pnee village to KP Cement’s concession.
Upon seeing the satellite tv for pc imagery, conservationists expressed doubts that the highway might have been constructed with out heavy equipment, which native residents who’ve resorted to unlawful logging, largely out of poverty, would have issue buying — except it was provided to them.
2021: Worst 12 months on report for deforestation in Prey Lang
Ek Sovanna heads up the Kratie provincial chapter of the Prey Lang Neighborhood Community (PLCN), a grassroots group that had been patrolling the forest to doc criminal activity till the Ministry of Setting banned the group from conducting its patrols in 2020.
Nonetheless, Sovanna famous that whereas the ban has diminished the PLCN’s capability to name out unhealthy actors, he was nonetheless in a position to get data surrounding the destruction of the forest that most of the PLCN members depend on.
“The PLCN is banned from conducting forest patrols into the realm, however over the previous few days, I noticed concrete poles and heavy equipment like excavators have been introduced in,” he stated, including that the speed at which equipment was being transported into the jungle had elevated dramatically in current months.
Sovanna went on to element how there have been in truth two corporations working inside KP Cement’s concession: one mining for limestone, the opposite mining for marble. He stated he didn’t know the names of those corporations, and official data seen by Mongabay solely title KP Cement Business because the holder of the concession.
Sovanna stated he has seen many Chinese language nationals getting into the realm gifted to KP Cement, which corresponds with Chingheang’s enterprise ties, nearly all of which see him seemingly play the function of native accomplice to Chinese language traders.
“In relation to consultations, these corporations haven’t met with us,” Sovanna stated. “They solely work with officers from the Ministry of Setting and provincial authorities.”
Sovanna pointed to the complicity of the Ministry of Setting, noting how there was a disconnect between the authorities’ actions and the legislation.
“Bulldozing the roads, we expect, is incorrect and in distinction with the Regulation on Forestry and Code of Setting, so the Ministry of Setting shouldn’t enable this development inside the protected areas,” he stated. “For the villagers, who’re the protectors [of the forest], we’re banned; as an alternative, they permit the bulldozing inside the middle of the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary in Kratie. That is incorrect. I believe that bulldozing the roads will unfold the logging.”
All of this comes as new knowledge from International Forest Watch present that 2021 was the worst 12 months on report for deforestation in Prey Lang, with greater than 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) of main forest misplaced in what seems to be a development of accelerating destruction. Logging in Prey Lang had beforehand peaked in 2016, when 7,410 hectares (18,310 acres) of main forest was misplaced, however this subsequently dropped by round half till 2019, when deforestation started to swiftly ramp again up.
“That is the enterprise mannequin and the federal government, I’m afraid, is aware of no different mannequin than unlawful extraction benefiting just a few well-connected military brass, businessmen, politicians and their households,” Ida Theilade, a professor on the College of Copenhagen who has studied Prey Lang extensively, stated when requested of Suppose Biotech’s operations within the forest.
“This was the enterprise mannequin of the Khmer Rouge and it nonetheless is the federal government’s enterprise mannequin right this moment. Logic because the gamers are the identical too,” she added.
Theilade warned that there are long-term ecological costs to be paid for the continued destruction of Prey Lang, with farmers nationwide already losing out to longer dry seasons, unpredictable and excessive climate occasions akin to droughts and floods. These, when coupled with falling groundwater ranges, power farmers to maneuver to extra adaptable crops like cassava, however there they lose out financially and nutritionally.
Theilade contextualized the loss of forest amid rising temperatures, local weather change-induced economic losses in productivity and the impression that diminished tree cowl has on Cambodia’s waterways, upon which tens of millions rely for meals and livelihoods.
“Decreased run-off from Prey Lang Forest has already put dams on Stung Chinit in peril,” Theilade stated. “Think about what’s going to occur as soon as the Tonle Sap River stops flowing again into Tonle Sap? That’s the protein supply of Cambodia. Quick-term and nepotistic positive factors by just a few incompetent rulers will smash the productiveness, dietary standing and local weather resilience of the entire nation.”
Whereas those that stand to revenue from the brand new mine stay silent, those that have tried to make use of schemes akin to REDD+ (lowering emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) to preserve what stays of the protected forest have been dismayed to study of the federal government’s determination.
“We’re extraordinarily involved concerning the excessive charges of deforestation in Prey Lang and particularly to study this massive mining concession,” stated Srabani Roy, performing nation director of Conservation Worldwide in Cambodia. “We’re already seeing some highway development across the concession — regardless that it’s nonetheless exploratory — and related deforestation from this.”
Conservation Worldwide started its REDD+ enterprise within the part of Prey Lang that lies in Stung Treng province, teaming up with the Ministry of Setting and Japanese buying and selling home Mitsui in 2018. However now, with accreditation ongoing for the preliminary section of the challenge, the conservation NGO and its companions had hoped to broaden the challenge and confer REDD+ standing on giant swaths of Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, together with the 938 hectares in Kratie the place KP Cement’s mine is being constructed.
“As we’re nonetheless within the strategy of defining our REDD+ challenge space, we are able to feasibly remove this concession from the challenge space,” Roy stated. “If the boundary had already been established, a concession akin to this could most definitely be thought-about a reversal.”
A “reversal” in REDD+ terminology is the lack of forest inside the REDD+ challenge’s accounting space, whether or not intentional loss, akin to from unlawful logging or new land concessions, or unintentional forest loss attributable to fires or pure disasters. Reversals can derail a REDD+ challenge, rendering it unviable and its carbon credit nugatory. However Tim Frewer, an educational primarily based in Cambodia, stated Conservation Worldwide and Mitsui have been in a position to keep away from this as a result of they “can merely excise these concessions from their challenge areas.”
In contrast, Frewer famous, native folks can not excise areas devastated by concessions from their lives and are as an alternative pressured to reside with the destruction and degradation of their atmosphere whereas struggling spiritually and economically because of this.
He pointed to the lengthy, grim historical past of extractive industries ravaging Prey Lang and famous how safety conferred upon the forest, each by protected space standing and REDD+, have completed little to discourage the federal government from issuing new concessions.
“From this long-term perspective there’s nothing notably stunning or extraordinary concerning the mining concession,” he added. “What’s notable is the naiveté of REDD+ proponents in pondering that they’ve the facility and affect to vary this.”
Banner picture: Clearing of forest with vans and cement laid for the foundations of a constructing on the feasibility research space of KP Cement’s mine. Picture by Andy Ball for Mongabay.
Editor’s observe: This story was powered by Places to Watch, a International Forest Watch (GFW) initiative designed to shortly establish regarding forest loss around the globe and catalyze additional investigation of those areas. Locations to Watch attracts on a mix of near-real-time satellite tv for pc knowledge, automated algorithms and subject intelligence to establish new areas on a month-to-month foundation. In partnership with Mongabay, GFW is supporting data-driven journalism by offering knowledge and maps generated by Locations to Watch. Mongabay maintains full editorial independence over the tales reported utilizing this knowledge.
Suggestions: Use this form to ship a message to the editor of this publish. If you wish to publish a public remark, you are able to do that on the backside of the web page.