From yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald:

CAMBODIA is being systematically stripped of its natural assets by a small elite of politicians, relatives of its prime minister, and businessmen working with the army, the Government’s former official independent forestry watchdog says. International donors such as Australia who bankroll the impoverished nation do virtually nothing to stop the plunder, it says. Global Witness, the British-based human rights and environment group that monitored Cambodia’s forests for the Government until it was thrown out of the country last year, said logging is in the hands of a “small kleptocratic mafia”. In a report released yesterday it accuses officials and senators of misappropriating public assets, extortion, tax avoidance, looting the forests and managing an extensive illicit economy under the eyes of the international donors who turn a blind eye but give the country $US600 million ($724 million) annually in aid…

Global Witness claims to have uncovered evidence of heavily armed soldiers from Brigade 70, an elite unit with close connections to senior politicians, including the Prime Minister, Hun Sen, transporting logs and other smuggled goods from all over Cambodia for tycoons and politicians. The timber is sold to Vietnam or sent to China.

“These timber trafficking activities are worth many millions a year and the profits are split between timber traders and the brigade commanders,” it says. Brigade 70 is also hired by industrialists to smuggle alcohol, sugar, cigarettes, perfume, drugs and construction materials for prominent tycoons, the report says. “The armed forces are major players in logging and drug trafficking. They have kept up an assault on the country’s forests that does not pretend to be legitimate. Many units are stationed around forests and carry out illegal operations geared towards enriching their commanders.”

See the RMAP blog post by Maylee Thavat for further discussion of this issue.