While crowds gathered in Phnom Penh to watch Cambodia’s Independence Day parade, a different sort of procession drew the attention of villagers in Ratanakkiri province yesterday, with hundreds of motorbikes flooding across border checkpoints loaded with luxury timber.
The spectacle, which on a smaller scale can be witnessed almost every day, according to provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, Chhay Thy, proceeded uninhibited across four Vietnamese border crossings in Ratanakkiri.
“A hauling by this many motorbikes has never taken place before; there were about 200 motorbikes today,” Thy said. “It looked like a parade; especially given it was Independence Day.”
Most days, Thy said, about 100 reinforced motorbikes cross in Andong Meas and Taveng districts carrying about half a cubic metre of timber, which costs $100 in Cambodia and sells for up to $500 in Vietnam.
Calling government anti-smuggling efforts “ineffective”, Thy said the drivers were mostly from local ethnic groups and predominantly transported thnong timber, which a 23-year-old villager, who declined to be named, said was logged locally and shipped across the border without interference thanks to corruption.
“They pay the money to border police,” he said. “[It costs] $2.50 or more per motorbike.”
Andong Meas district police chief Sovann Thin denied such large-scale smuggling was occurring. Thin said only two or three motorbikes snuck across the border each day.
He added that he would investigate Thy’s claims.