|Recently, Dennis D. Gray published an article in the Nikkei Asian Review entitled Cambodia’s Emerging ‘Killing Fields’ which addressed the last remaining dissent in Cambodia from environmentalists regarding teak deforestation. We can skip the horrific period of the Khmer Rouge’s reign of human killing fields and move to the current era. The politicians of Cambodia have been decimated so as to remove any criticism of the power brokers of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s regime. Although Hun Sen, shown below, speaks about the need to conserve the country’s natural resources, the record does not support that rhetoric. Moreover, the reality does not match the words and the plight of the remaining environmentalists.
Before reviewing the state of Cambodia’s deforestation, it would be appropriate to go back in time a bit. In 1989, teak logging was banned in Thailand after disastrous floods in 1988 were blamed on the loss of forest cover. Teak log and lumber exports were banned in 1991. From May 12-15, 1975, the author had the opportunity to spend some time in a logging operation on the Thai/Cambodian border south of Trat, Thailand. As you can see from the images, it was pretty much the end of the world when small nibbles were taken from the primeval forest as one moved east into Cambodia. Security against the Khmer Rouge was always something to think about. You might recognize the hat and slung shot gun from previous blogs.
On another occasion just following the Thai teak export ban, the author developed a relationship with some Thai military brass regarding an oil and gas concession in the Gulf of Thailand. One evening they suggested we take a boat and meet some Khmer Rouge guys on an island in Cambodian waters to seek an oil and gas concession there. It is one thing to walk into Cambodia in troubled times and quite another to be on an island negotiating with those guys as a pale face. However, it was clear that the Thai military were deeply involved in the Cambodian teak exports through Thailand. Finally, Cambodia banned exports in 1996 and enacted a logging ban in 2002.
It is also sad to see a magnificent teak trunk being cut up to make decorative table tops.
Now, in the present time, “environmental defenders in Cambodia are pitted against very powerful forces,” said Global Witness campaigner Emma Burnett. Some twenty environmental advocates and campaigners have been killed in Cambodia since 2005 and others have been jailed, attacked or threatened with assassination. Ouch Leng, an activist, told the Nikkei Asian Review “I am aware that I might not live much longer. But I will try to go on with my work in order to serve as a good model for young people, to engage people to protect the forests and environment.”
The image below shows the Cardamom Mountains in Koh Kong province of southwestern Cambodia. In 2012, hundreds gathered there to investigate alleged illegal logging and commemorate the death of slain environmental activist Chut Wutty who was shot by a military police officer. The general area shown below is the same reflected in the black and white images above some forty years before though the Khmer Rouge were the threat then and not police officers.
The most recent casualties were a ranger, a military police officer and a member of a forestry team of the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society. They were killed in January while confiscating chainsaws in an illegal logging camp on the Cambodia/Vietnam border. Sadly, given the direction Cambodia is taking these days with little opposition from the leaders of the western world, it is unlikely anything will change in the near future.
Nonetheless, The Elephant Story is making a small contribution to support the park rangers in the Cardamom Mountains by outfitting park rangers who risk their lives daily to prevent wildlife poaching and illegal logging.
You too can assist in this effort by purchasing one of the jackets which are iconic in their own right. Buy the Jacket at: https://the-elephant-story.com/collections/mens-jackets/products/cardamom-national-park-ranger-jacket-cambodia