DSI claims illegal logging rampant
CAMBODIAN GANGS GET 'VIRTUAL CONCESSIONS' TO FELL PHAYUNG TREES
published : 29 Jan 2012 at 00:00
newspaper section: News
Wildlife officials, including a national park chief, have been accused of helping Cambodian gangs to fell phayung trees in protected forests for export to China.
The Department of Special Investigation claims the officials were virtually "awarding Cambodians a concession to cut the trees" in a national park near Phanom Dong Rak Wildlife Sanctuary in Si Sa Ket province.
Pol Maj Suriya Singhakamon, chief of the DSI's consumer protection office, claimed the illegal logging was aided by some soldiers and police officers turning a blind eye to Cambodians illegally entering Thai forests. They allowed them to take the phayung, also known as Siamese rosewood, out of the country.
Pol Maj Suriya said about 1,000 Cambodians equipped with chainsaws were cutting phayung "every day".
The DSI was told of the extent of the illegal logging during the questioning of 30 wildlife and forestry officials.
"Even phayung trees growing beside a national park office were cut," he said, although officials have told the DSI they had no knowledge of it.
The rampant felling of phayung trees has left Thailand with one last tract of the precious wood in Phuchong-Nayoi National Park in Ubon Ratchathani province, Pol Maj Suriya said.
The wood, liked by furniture makers for its hardness and patterns, is allegedly being snapped up by a Chinese businessman, he said.
Damrong Pidech, chief of the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, has transferred implicated officers from the area to allow for further DSI investigations, Pol Maj Suriya said.
Mr Damrong yesterday insisted none of his officials is involved in the illegal trade in either the national park or the wildlife sanctuary.
"I think the information that the DSI has obtained might refer to a former national park staff member who I have already transferred. I believe the new chiefs have nothing to do with the case," Mr Damrong said. He rejected DSI claims that 1,000 Cambodians regularly entered Thailand to fell phayung trees, saying that national parks staff patrolled areas containing phayung trees.
He said staff from other national parks were deployed to patrol tracts of phayung trees in Phujong-Nayoi National Park and Phanom Dongrak Wildlife Sanctuary to prevent illegal timber felling. But he admitted the measures were inadequate because of a lack of government funding.
Meanwhile, authorities yesterday found 29 phayung logs hidden in a pond in Si Sa Ket's Kantharalak district worth more than 12 million baht.