Cambodia’s Mysteriously Disappearing Jungle.
Above Photo: On the way to Banlung, Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia. Goodbye jungle.
Next stop on my recent trip to Cambodia was Ratanakiri Province, where I was retracing the steps of the ill-fated backpackers in my novel BACK, who enter the tri-border jungles of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam with disastrous consequences.
I also wanted to visit the many sites and sights of the Khmer Rouge in Ratanakiri, where they’d based themselves before coming to power in Cambodia. Ratanakiri was their stronghold as they fought a bitter civil war against the US-backed Cambodian government.
I also wanted to visit these sites because the Khmer Rouge are relevant to the plot of BACK, but in a uniquely modern-day context.
I was excited at the prospect of our drive across Ratanakiri Province, so talked-up by the Cambodian tourist authorities as a wonderfully remote place, full of virgin jungle.
I can only suggest they get over there pronto to disabuse themselves of this absurd notion, unless their idea of triple canopy jungle is thousands of square miles of Vietnamese-owned rubber plantations.
It was certainly remote though, and we passed very few villages or people as we made our way towards the provincial capital, Banlung, situated very close to the Vietnamese border. Perhaps this remoteness has allowed the jungle to be logged so viciously as officials and the government turn a blind eye, so long as they get their backhanders from loggers and Vietnamese rubber companies alike.
As the sun began to set, its crimson rays brilliantly illuminated the rich red earth that used to support thick jungle only a few years ago.
I couldn’t help thinking that if growing rubber was so profitable, if you stripped out all the corruption and shady deals between Cambodia politicians and Vietnamese rubber companies, then why don’t the government of Cambodia set up massive plantations themselves for the benefit of their own people? They could just hire Vietnamese management.
Instead the Cambodian government supply the jungle, then watch as the logged trees, the profits from logging them, the rubber and the profits from growing the rubber, all head back to its masters in Hanoi, leaving Cambodians with virtually nothing.
The ever-increasing traffic on this one-way street to Vietnam is resulting in Cambodians in remote areas becoming annoyed at their government, which has allowed Vietnamese companies to log the jungles and turn provinces like Ratanakiri into a glorified Vietnamese market garden.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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