As part of the fight against rampant illegal logging, police are targeting unlicensed furniture manufacturers, claiming they are using wrongly harvested timber to make their products
A furniture maker in Phnom Penh carves a table leg on Monday.
FORESTRY officials and local police in Ratanakkiri province raided five furniture makers for using illegally harvested timber to make their products, according to a local official.
"We closed five illegal furniture stores over the course of two days and confiscated their goods and materials," Leng Yu, head of the Lumphat Forestry Administration, told the Post on Sunday.
He said the crackdowns will continue until all illegal operations have been closed.
"We are continuing to crack down in other locations," Leng Yu said. "We have to stop all of them." He added that officials will also begin verifying the documents of legal furniture operations to make sure they are following the rules.
Leng Yu said that of the nearly 40 furniture makers operating in Banlung district, where the raids took place, only 16 have the necessary documents from the Ministry of Agriculture to use local timber to make their goods.
"We warned them many times in the last several months to close down their operations, but they didn't listen," Leng Yu said.
Forestry officials and local police confiscated furniture, wood and other materials during the raids, carried out over the weekend.
Fines will be imposed on the unlicensed furniture makers, and they must promise to stop trading in illegal timber in the future, Leng Yu said.
Im Heng, 44, one of the furniture makers closed down during the raids, said she lost more than US$2,500 in furniture and goods, adding that the cost of getting permission from the Ministry of Agriculture was too high.
"I contacted forestry officials for permission to make furniture, but they demanded $4,000 for a legal permit," she told the Post. "How could I afford this?"
Im Heng claimed that forestry officials gave her no advance warning and seized her property without a warrant.
"They just asked me for a thumb print and called police to seize my property," she said. "It is a violation of my rights."
The forestry department's Leng Yu said unregistered furniture makers make it difficult to control logging and pose an environmental threat.
Moung Poy, governor of Ratanakkiri province, said the crackdown will help government officials address the issue of deforestation. "I recently asked forestry officials to cooperate with local police and soldiers to monitor logging activity in the districts," he said.