Military police officers on Sunday raided a company contracted to clear land for soldiers in Preah Vihear province in an operation, led by military police chief Sao Sokha, that deployed 200 troops and three helicopters.
Despite the huge display of force, a military police spokesman declined to release details of the mission, though a prominent anti-logging investigator said the targeted firm – a company identified as Hong Sopheap Development, which was permitted to clear a social land concession for troops from Brigade 7 – had logged nearby protected forests with protection from soldiers.
Claiming he couldn’t discuss particulars, military police spokesman Eng Hy would only say experts were continuing yesterday to assess timber on the site in Choam Ksan district’s Sra Em commune.
“We cannot talk about it because we are investigating it,” Hy said, adding the operation also involved the Forestry Administration, the Environment Ministry and local authorities.
“Our experts are measuring wood . . . The location is a social land concession that belongs to the military.”
Contacted yesterday, Choam Ksan District Governor Chea Kimseng said the company, Hong Sopheap, was awarded a licence to clear a social land concession to house soldiers from Brigade 7.
“We do not know what the company is doing inside the location because they do not allow the local authorities in their location,” he said.
Sen Chey village chief Suon Em said yesterday that the company had begun clearing the site about three years ago but had yet to turn the land over to some 300 soldiers’ families slated to move onto the property.
“The soldiers were distributed the land, but they cannot access the land yet because the company needed to cut the forest [on the site],” Em said, adding that four to five trucks loaded with wood often left the location per day, though the timber leaving the site had dropped off recently.
Reached yesterday, veteran environmental campaigner Ouch Leng claimed the company had “long” cut down timber, in partnership with soldiers, outside the concession, including near the border with Thailand and in Preah Vihear Protected Forest.
“They are all soldiers who help cut down forest for the company,” Leng said, noting many areas nearby were now almost cleared of trees. Leng said he understood that their licence had been cancelled and called for any government officials complicit in any of the company’s alleged illegal logging to be held accountable.
Military police chief Sao Sokha was in January tasked with leading a taskforce to crackdown on illegal logging.