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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Yet another timber cache up in flames

Yet another timber cache up in flames

Provincial authorities have blamed a forest fire for incinerating hundreds of logs yesterday on a Mondulkiri economic land concession (ELC) that had previously been inspected by anti-logging forces, in just the latest of a rash blazes that have struck timber stockpiles in the province over the past few months.

Roughly 600 of 1,000 logs inside the Unigreen ELC in Koh Nhek district were burned by the fire, according to Prom Sovanna, deputy chief of the Forestry Administration in Koh Nhek.

“Based on our early estimation, the fire has damaged about 60 per cent of the total,” Sovana said.

Sovanna said yesterday that the burned timber was in fact legal and the blaze started after it spread from a nearby forest fire.

“The fire took place far away, but it quickly spread with the strong wind, and came right at the timber,” he said. “The month is so hot and windy; it caused a huge blaze and spread very fast. High grasses caught the fire and the flames were so high that they blew over the people trying to extinguish it.”

An anti-illegal logging committee – established at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s behest on January 14 – had already examined timber at the Unigreen concession just over a month ago.

While the legality of the hundreds of cubic metres of timber found on the concession was not revealed at the time, the inspection prompted prominent logging tycoon Try Pheap to publicly distance himself from the concession.

Yesterday’s conflagration was the fourth purported forest fire to burn down timber stockpiles on Mondulkiri concessions since the anti-logging committee was formed.

At one of the stricken ELCs – which had its licence withdrawn in 2014 for breaching their operating conditions – tycoon Try Pheap was allowed to collect timber spared by the blaze, the Ministry of Environment said on January 27.

Sok Rotha, the Mondulkiri provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, cast doubt over the authority’s assertion that yesterday’s blaze was started by a forest fire.

“The company or the owner normally takes care of it and guards it carefully so that a fire does not destroy it so easily,” he said.

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