A conservation NGO has accused a soldier and a military police officer of being personally involved in illegal timber-smuggling rings in Kampong Speu, one of the provinces military police announced would be scrutinised during an internal corruption investigation.
Natural Resources and Wildlife Preservation Organization director Chea Hean said yesterday that the two rings operated at least five heavy trucks, as of last Friday, transporting illegal wood to Vietnam.
Hean said the soldier, Choeung Theng, was a member of one ring, and provincial military police deputy chief of staff Chheng Long a member of the other.
“[The national government] said that the border is closed, but the authorities just closed their eyes and reported to the superiors that there is no timber hauling,” he said.
According to Hean, both groups buy timber from Veal Veng and Phnom Kravanh districts in Pursat, and Sre Ambel and Thmor Bang districts in Koh Kong.
They then haul them through Kampong Speu’s Oral district, Takeo’s Phnom Den checkpoint and Kampot’s Torn Horn checkpoint, usually at night.
On Sunday, military police spokesman Eng Hy said investigators would visit Kampong Speu and Pursat after local media reported that officers were participating in illegal logging there.
Hean said timber smuggling had increased after news broke that the government’s illegal logging committee would inspect the area, in order to get as much business done as possible before the crackdown.
Kampong Speu military police chief of staff Chan Da yesterday said Long had been under investigation since the accusations against him surfaced in the past few days. Long had denied being involved but said his son ran a small, legitimate timber trading business, Da said.
“I called him in, but he said there is nothing,” said Da. “It is his child, not him.”
In June last year, the Wildlife Alliance wildlife rapid response team alleged that Theng held them at gunpoint when they stopped a vehicle loaded with planks from a protected area and tried to reclaim it.
Theng declined to comment yesterday.
Say Sam Al, the minister of environment, said on International Environment Day on Sunday that the “huge scale of logging, I can say at the moment, it has been completely ended”.
However, residents of multiple provinces said that large timber trucks are continuing to flow to Vietnam.
Additional reporting by Igor Kossov