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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Top brass says wood was illegal

Top brass says wood was illegal

Timber seized in nighttime raid unprecedented in mass: general.

THE company behind a massive timber-smuggling operation involving a Forestry Administration official that was broken up on July 26 in Takeo province did not have permission to export timber, the commander of the national military police told the Post Sunday.

"The company which attempted to smuggle the timber is not authorised to export the valuable timber out of the country, and they committed the crime without our permission," General Sao Sokha said.

A military police official told the Post last week that Ouk Kim San, a Forestry Administration official who also works for the NGO Conservation International, was arrested in Takeo near the Vietnamese border with three Vietnamese nationals as they were unloading two truckloads of luxury timber worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Two trucks left Veal Veng district, Pursat province, for a port on the Vietnamese border on July 25, according to military police sources.

Ouk Kim San, who is responsible for protecting the central Cardamom forests in Pursat, escorted the timber to the border in Takeo province. At around 2am, they started loading the logs with cranes onto wooden ships.

At that point, military police officers who had been secretly trailing the logging trucks stopped the men operating the cranes, an officer involved in the operation said.

Ouk Kim San told the police he worked for the Forestry Administration and showed them permission slips to transport the timber. The military police rejected the slips and arrested Ouk Kim San along with the three Vietnamese nationals, the police said.

Ty Sokun, director of the Foresty Administration, could not be reached for comment on Sunday. Last Wednesday he said he had not been informed about Ouk Kim San's arrest.

Sao Sokha said Wednesday that the size of the operation was unprecedented.

"We have cracked down on many cases of smuggling, but the smuggling case in Takeo province is the biggest case I have ever seen," he said.

Official connection
Ouk Kim San works as a liaison between the Forestry Administration and Conservation International, David Emmett, the deputy regional director for Conservation International, said Wednesday.

Sao Sokha said Sunday that he did not have the authority to keep Ouk Kim San detained and could only inform the Forestry Administration of the incident.

"We learned that a [Forestry Administration] officer was involved in this particular case, so we will let his superiors use their internal administrative measure against him," he said.

Since his release, Ouk Kim San has returned to the forests of Pursat, Conservation International staff said Sunday.

Emmett said some trees in the Cardamoms needed to be felled in advance of a planned hydroelectric dam project.

The dam, Stung Atai, will create a large reservoir that will flood thousands of hectares of forest, according to a Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries map obtained by the Post.

"It's harmful to leave trees in flooded areas," Emmett said. "Rotting vegetation releases an incredible amount of methane."

A company named MDS Import and Export won the bid to clear the forest and to legally sell the timber domestically, according to a letter to the Forestry Administration dated May 4.

The letter said the timber was "for domestic use only" and "that the Forestry Administration must increase monitoring of the situation".

It was Ouk Kim San's job to make sure MDS did not violate the government's terms, Emmett said.

The two trucks raided at the Vietnamese border had MDS logos on them, military police said. MDS could not be reached for comment on Sunday.



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