Military police in Mondulkiri province yesterday seized “hundreds” of logs of timber in Pech Chreada district, amid a continuing crackdown on illegal logging and timber smuggling across Cambodia’s border with Vietnam.
The raid, a joint operation between military police and the Forestry Administration, came as the committee leading the crackdown, formed on Friday by Prime Minister Hun Sen, warned more raids were imminent while continuing to check whether thousands of logs seized in several recent busts were illegally felled and should be confiscated.
Authorities yesterday declined to elaborate on who would receive the timber if it was confiscated, though a 2014 agreement signed between the government and Try Pheap gives the logging magnate – himself long accused of forest crimes – exclusive rights to buy and export wood seized by the state.
Following the crackdown order by the premier, who singled out two tycoons – Soeng Sam Ol and Lim Bunna – as illegal loggers and the operation’s primary targets, civilian agencies and military officers have swooped down on three timber warehouses belonging to the pair in Tbong Khmum, an economic land concession (ELC) in Kratie province’s Sambor district, and logging operations in Mondulkiri province.
Prey Veng provincial military police chief Men Sibon said his officers had also confiscated three logging trucks in Prey Veng on Monday, though the drivers “ran away”.
Mondulkiri provincial military police commander Sak Saraing said the Pech Chreada district bust uncovered “hundreds” of logs felled in a protected forest, though he was unable to give more details.
Meanwhile, in Tbong Khmum, provincial court prosecutor Hiek Sopheak said officers were sorting through three timber warehouses to check their stores’ legality, and waiting for permission from national authorities to raid a fourth, owned by “Okhna Thai” in O’Reang-ou district.
The same process was also underway at the 6,000-hectare Chinese Dynamic Investment ELC in Kratie, according to Kratie provincial prosecutor Ty Sovinthal.
“More than 2,000 logs have been counted. We do not know the exact number yet because counting is still going on,” Sovinthal said, adding that wood found at the rubber and acacia tree plantation, raided on Sunday, was not luxury timber but grades one, two and three.
Sopheak said that officers were checking to see whether the logs were marked to indicate the company had paid the correct tax. To recover untaxed wood, the company would have to pay a fine equal to double the tax rate, he said, adding that any not claimed would be auctioned.
Chinese Dynamic Investment representative Hak Kosal said the firm had sufficient paperwork.
In a statement yesterday, a coalition of conservation NGOs – many of whom work closely with the Cambodian government – yesterday applauded the crackdown, led by national military police commander Sao Sokha, who has beefed up security at border checkpoints.
They called it “a good first step” that “sends the right message to illegal loggers”.
However, many remain sceptical, particularly given that the Try Pheap group, representatives of which were unreachable yesterday, could buy timber seized by the state.
“Confiscated timber changing hands will be an indicator of the outcome,” said Marcus Hardtke, of the German conservation group ARA.
Additional reporting by Shaun Turton