Rangers discover 2,600 litres hidden in the bottom of a truck, as conservationists decry the devastating effects of harvesting the mreah prov trees from the forests.
FORESTRY Administration officials seized 2,600 litres of sassafras oil used to manufacture the drug MDMA, or "Ecstasy", last week in a major drug bust in Pursat province, government officials and conservationists said Thursday.
The oil, which is extracted from the wood of trees known in Khmer as mreah prov, was discovered on August 19 in barrels below the false bottom of a dump truck driven by Lim Pim, a 27-year-old Vietnamese man who was arrested at the scene, according to the environmental group Conservation International (CI). He was driving to Pursat town from the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary in Veal Veng district.
Mok Dara, director of the Interior Ministry's Anti-Drug Department, said the oil has been regulated by drug control laws since 2006 due to its role in drug or illicit substance production, and that authorities around the country have become increasingly focused on it.
"There are five cases already that have happened in Cambodia in 2009, in Battambang, Kampong Chhnang and Pursat provinces," he said.
Last week's arrest in Pursat was made by rangers from the Forestry Administration's Central Cardamom Protected Forest enforcement team, a targeted project funded in part by CI.
CI became interested in this issue in the early 2000s, after noting the severe toll that the harvesting of the oil had taken on the Kingdom's forests, said David Emmett, the organisation's regional director.
Oil extracted from trees in Cambodia is typically transported across the border to Vietnam for refinement.
To generate enough oil for cross-border trafficking, Emmett said, producers cut down trees at a rapid rate, a process devastating to local ecosystems.
"It's like this cancerous growth in the forest," Emmett said. Cambodian production is centred in the Cardamom mountains of the southwest, and in the forests of the northeast.
Rural producers can expect to make around US$10 per kilogram of oil, Emmett said, "but when it gets out to Phnom Penh and Hanoi, it becomes massively more valuable".
Seng Bora, also of CI, estimated that the oil seized in last week's bust would have netted producers perhaps US$50,000, though by the time it reached the border, it could have been worth up to $270,000.
In June, rangers seized 5.2 tonnes of the oil in a single bust - the largest ever of sassafras oil in Cambodia, officials said at the time.