"Logging is part of a massive asset stripping for the benefit of a small kleptocratic elite," said Simon Taylor, director of Global Witness as it released the report in Bangkok.

 

Taylor said the perpetrators included powerful businessmen, senior military and police officers and ministers closely linked to Hun Sen, the Cambodian prime minister.

 

"The forests of Cambodia have been ransacked over the past decade by this mafia with little or no benefit flowing down to the ordinary people," he said.

 

The Global Witness report detailed what it says is massive corruption and illegal logging which the group said continues under the eyes of foreign donors who annually provide $600m in aid - about half Cambodia's budget.

 

Such donors, Taylor said, had failed in their responsibilities.

 

"They are basically spineless. The message that Hun Sen gets from the donors is that they don't really give a damn."

 

Endangered

 

Several associates of Prime Minister Hun Sen
are named in the report [Reuters]
The group says Cambodia's most powerful illegal logging syndicate, the Seng Keang Company, is controlled by several figures connected to the Hun Sen administration, including Ty Sokhun, director-general of Cambodia's forest administration.

 

Seng Keang, the report says, has illegally felled around $13m worth of timber annually from the central region of Prey Long – an area home to several endangered species - under the guise of a rubber plantation development scheme.

 

Responding to the report, Ty Sokhun described Global Witness employees as "insane, unprofessional people" with no knowledge of forestry, and said their claims were deceptive.

 

He said Cambodia had increased its forest cover in recent years.

 

Seng Kok Heang, another figure cited in the report, said the Seng Keang Company had legal permits to cut and transport logs out of Prey Long, having won a concession from the government to turn 6,200 hectares into a rubber plantation.

 

He said Global Witness's accusations against him, including that he attempted to kill two activists who had protested against illegal logging in Prey Long, were "unacceptable".

 

Impoverished

 

In its report Global Witness said the loss of Cambodia's forests had further impoverished the country's already hard-pressed rural population, depriving them of forest products, including food and medicine, as well as water sources.

 

The group said its report was based on 12 years of monitoring Cambodia's forests. It was expelled from Cambodia in 2005.

 

In 2002, facing growing international criticism, the Cambodian government suspended widespread logging concessions to foreign and local companies which had already felled large swathes of forests.

 

But according to Global Witness, these have only been replaced by other ways to continue illegal logging.