The recently created nationwide anti-logging commission seized 300 logs of illegal timber at a sawmill near a Vietnamese graveyard in Stung Treng province on Friday.
Police, environmental, forestry and judicial officials under the commission’s purview are currently re-inspecting previously checked logging sites and warehouses in Stung Treng, and have been since late last week.
The commission did not explain the reason behind the re-inspections.
“In total, there are 300 pieces of timber lying behind the sawmill,” Sun Yeut, the provincial deputy prosecutor, said yesterday. “They are planks from kor koh and thnong trees – some are huge and some are small.”
Chea Pich, the provincial court prosecutor, said the authorities don’t know who was involved in logging the wood, but Hou Sam Ol, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, laid blame at the feet of Heng Samnieng, a Vietnamese national also known as “Grandma Prourng” in Preah Bat commune, where the sawmill is located.
Samnieng could not be reached for comment yesterday, though prosecutors said that she showed them a permit for trading timber yesterday.
According to Ol, Samnieng only acquired the permit in the last year or two, but had been operating illegally for years before that.
“She bought illegal timber. It is a big business – distributing domestically and exporting to Vietnam,” Ol said. “In the past, she did it illegally because corrupt authorities turned a blind eye to her business. They got monthly payments. It is typical."
The wood, concealed near the graveyard, was about 200 metres from Samnieng’s sawmill. Inspectors also found pieces of illegal wood inside some of the local villagers’ houses.
Chea Sokhoeun, of the conservation group Prey Lang Community Network, said that this timber was logged from Siem Pang, Siem Bok and Thala Barivat districts, with some of the land lying within the Prey Lang forest.
Pich, the prosecutor, said that suspected locals will be questioned before the case is sent to court.
In a separate timber case, a group of six rosewood loggers in Kampong Thom’s Prasat Balang district escaped arrest on Wednesday night when a local tipped them off to an upcoming raid by military police officers.
Khun Bunhou, military police commander in Kampong Thom’s Stoung district, said yesterday that though his officers inspected the site, the loggers managed to escape. The timber haul, cut into 16 logs, was transported to the district military police headquarters.
“The [rosewood] tree was a hundred years old. It is very big and worth more than $10,000,” Bunhou said.