O N the road between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville lies a fixed checkpoint manned by Military Police and Forestry officials. Roth Sovannara is the Forestry Official in charge of the check-point. He told the Post: "This is the largest checkpoint of its kind in Cambodia. It has been in operation since November."
Sovannara said that military and Forestry officials have manned this checkpoint together since November 1993. "At that time the Secretary of State for Forestry asked the military police to help us."
Sovannara's office is in a wooden building along side the road. It contains his desk, on which files are neatly stacked. Two bunk beds and two larger beds furnish the rest of the room. A large mix of American and Russian weapons lean against the walls, from M-16s and M203 grenade launchers to AK-47s and B-40 anti-tank rockets.
"The mission of the check-point is solely to regulate, to control the transport of timber. It is not to military or criminal security. The PMs come here to help us to control the traffic of logs because the smugglers now have guns."
"During the Sihanouk period Forestry officials never carried guns. Now we must. Now when we go into the forest we take the PM with us."
Two months ago the body of a Forestry official was taken out of the Tonle Sap near the Japanese-Cambodian Friendship bridge.
"If a truck comes and the drivers have permission from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, we charge them tax for the logs. If they do not have permission to transport the logs, then we sieze them. If they pay a fine we release the logs to them."
Sovannara said that taxes depended on the quality and amount of timber being transported. There are twenty-six grades of timber. The highest quality timber is taxed at a rate of 300,000 riel per cubic meter. The lowest grade of wood is fire wood and it is taxed at a rate of 15,000 riel per cubic meter.
"We stop both logs and sawn timber," Sovannara said.
"The fine for transporting wood illegally is the same as the tax charged to those transporting the wood legally. In all they pay twice the tax."
"The second time that they are caught [trying to transport timber without permission] they pay double the tax as a fine, in addition to the tax."
"Before the directive of the Prime Minister's was signed [giving the Ministry of Defense control of the export of logs], an average of twenty trucks a day passed this control point. Now there almost no trucks pass."
"Before the law there were many companies that exported logs. Now there are only two big companies: Kasotin and Kollecim. Only these companies can export logs."