RATANAKKIRI provincial governor Pav Ham Phan said yesterday that he had instructed civilian and military police to renew efforts to crack down on illegal logging following a series of smuggling reports received during the Pchum Ben festival.
Meanwhile, officials warned that those engaged in illegal logging were in the process of changing or had already changed their methods in response to a sustained crackdown spurred by comments made by Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this year.
Ray Rai, the provincial police chief, said yesterday that three men were arrested on Friday after they were caught trying to smuggle more than 100 metres of illegal luxury wood across the border to Vietnam.
He said they had been transporting the wood in a truck when they were arrested, but that they had been released after questioning.
“We arrested three people and confiscated a large truck with more than 100 cubic metres of luxury wood in Ratanakkiri during the Pchum Ben festival,” Ray Rai said.
“They have now been released after confessing to being poor farmers who were paid US$100 each to transport the wood.”
Ray Rai said that although the three arrested men turned out not to be the owners of the wood, police had identified those suspected of paying the farmers to transport it.
“We know the suspects and their whereabouts, and we are now working to arrest them in connection with illegal logging and wood smuggling activities in Cambodia,” he said.
Pav Ham Phan said yesterday that this and other instances of illegal logging and smuggling had prompted him to call for more police attention to the practices, particularly in O’Yadav district.
“Illegal logging and trafficking of woods occurs because some officials and armed forces are involved,” he said.
Both Pav Ham Phan and Ray Rai said they had noticed a shift in tactics on the part of illegal loggers and smugglers, and that they believed this was due in part to a spate of raids that occurred earlier this year as part of a high-profile crackdown ordered by Hun Sen in a January speech. For one, Ray Rai said, suspects are more likely now to use vehicles other than the trucks and cars they preferred in the past.
“They are changing their business activities from transporting the wood with trucks or cars to transporting them with local carts or motorbikes,” he said. Pav Ham Phan said he had noticed an uptick in reports of wood smuggled by boat into Vietnam.
Beyond transportation, Ray Rai said one of the most significant changes was that illegal logging rings were increasingly selling wood to local woodwork shops, where they are crafted into furniture and other products before being exported to Vietnam or to other Cambodian provinces.
Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, claimed that he knew of more than 30 woodwork shops in Ratanakkiri that had knowingly accepted illegally logged wood and turned it into furniture before exporting it.
Also yesterday, officials in Siem Reap province said a Forestry Administration official had been killed in Angkor Thom district. Sin An was found dead on October 6, his head having apparently been chopped with axes. Keo Sambath, the provincial deputy police chief, said officials suspected that the killing had been carried out “for revenge for his work cracking down on illegal logging”, but that they were still investigating.