Although officials claim that the production of charcoal seriously affects Cambodia’s forest resources, residents living near the Meun Chey international border checkpoint in Prey Veng province say truckloads of the product was sold near the crossing without ever being inspected by authorities.

Rin Sarom, 56, a resident of Krabao commune in Kamchay Mear district, told The Post on September 6 that over the past week many trucks had transported charcoal to sell near the Cambodia-Vietnam border and close to the checkpoint.

“At least 20 to 30 trucks a day transport charcoal from [neighbouring] Tbong Khmum province and pass through our village to sell to the Vietnamese brokers near the Meun Chey international border crossing,” he said.

“No authorities stop or check whether the charcoal is legal or not. They could sell the charcoal for 1,300 to 1,500 riel [$0.33 to $0.38] per kilogramme,” he said.

Kamchay Mear district police chief Khieu Sokhom told The Post that there was indeed charcoal being transported by 3.5-tonne trucks and trailers. However, he did not know if they were intended to be sold to the Vietnamese near the border.

“I only see people transporting charcoal for sale in our villages, communes and districts. I did not ask any questions because it is not within my jurisdiction. Besides, those charcoal sellers have never caused any problem,” he said.

Van Piseth, the head of Meun Chey checkpoint, acknowledged that there were people transporting charcoal to sell at the border. The business was allowed to continue because if it was stopped during this time it could affect people’s livelihoods. Some people could even lose their land and homes due to bank debt, he said.

“We do not always crack down on everything. At some point, authorities are also tolerant because charcoal is not an illegal product,” he said.

However, Prey Veng provincial Forestry Administration director Khim Oun told The Post that the transportation of forest products and by-products must have a permit issued by the authorities.

He said any kind of business, even a family business, must have a permit or patent issued by relevant institutions.

“The charcoal business needs to cut down trees from the forest and is banned because it affects national forest cover. The transportation of charcoal products from one province to another requires a permit from relevant authorities, otherwise it is an offence that can be fined according to the forestry law,” he said.

Oun said, however, that these activities are exempt in some cases. “From a legal point of view, we have to crack down, but if we crack down on everything, people will starve,” he said.