Police in Kratie province were caught on video letting potentially illegal timber transporters pass through their checkpoints on Monday night, with provincial police yesterday suggesting they were powerless to crack down on such shipments as many transporters possessed axes and machetes and were addicted to drugs.
In two videos posted by local news outlet Khlei Khloem Daily, journalists drive behind vehicles loaded with timber in the middle of the night and film the vans being waved through police checkpoints without being stopped. Though the illegal logging and transport of timber is rampant in the Kingdom, officers in the video barely glance at the wood protruding from the backs of the vans.
One of the journalists filming the scenes, who asked not to be named due to fear of repercussions, said yesterday that such timber hauling happened every day. He said his team saw nearly 20 vans hauling timber from Kratie province to Tbong Khmum or Kampong Cham province over the last two nights alone.
Responding to criticism of the apparent inaction, provincial Deputy Police Chief Sum Sokhim yesterday admitted that “many forest crimes” happened in the area but said that the police had set up the checkpoint to check for drugs and illegal weapons, not to halt forestry crimes.
“Crackdowns on forestry crimes are not wrong, but we do not do it because we do our own work. Now, we mainly focus on the drug and weapon issues,” he said.
He said such a crackdown would be difficult as the drivers often carried machetes and were under the influence of drugs, though he did not explain how those issues would prove problematic for checkpoints set up specifically to police weapons and drugs.
“Recently, many drivers took out swords in wood crackdowns. Some are addicted to drugs. What are the machetes for? They keep them for attacking people,” he said. “They drive like mad, like the wind. When they see the authorities’ car, they veer all over the road to avoid us overtaking them.”
The vehicles in the video, however, appear unbothered by the police presence, proceeding to the checkpoint in an orderly fashion, slowing and passing through unmolested.
Sokhim, meanwhile, maintained that police assisted in timber crackdowns when asked by the Forestry Administration, insisting that in those cases the haulers rarely escaped.
Separately, some 21 cubic metres of first-grade timber were transported from Ratanakkiri’s Lumphat district to Vietnam illegally on Monday night.
May Chay, Srechhok village chief, said he saw two vans transporting the timber. The drivers claimed they bought the wood last year from local villagers.
Dam Lean, a community member, said on Monday afternoon that three vans had entered the village and would leave at night containing some seven cubic metres each.
“The timber is logged from Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary,” he said.
District Governor Nou The said he was unaware of the case and asked the local villagers to tell him the exact location. But Chay claimed that authorities hadn’t intervened in several previous cases, which is why he hadn’t informed them of the exact location.