About 300 cubic metres of luxury timber is being felled every day and transported on boats to Vietnam and Thailand from four districts in Koh Kong province, according to an investigation by a local rights group.
Chea Hean, director of the Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organization (NRWPO), said the investigation into logging in Kiri Sakor, Koh Kong, Mondul Sima and Thmar Bang districts, which include parts of Botum Sakor National Park, showed soldiers and locals were systematically exporting masses of timber.
“Soldiers and villagers with hundreds of chainsaws have logged in those areas,” he said. “They pay 10,000 baht ($310) per boat to the environmental and forest administration officers, police, military police and border officers, to transport timber,” Hean said.
Each night, Hean added, at least 25 boats carry hundreds of cubic metres of rosewood to Thailand and Vietnam to fuel the furniture industry, where smugglers can fetch up to $239 per cubic metre for the prized timber.
“We continue to investigate, and if we know which military commanders are involved in the logging and smuggling, we will submit a letter to the national assembly for intervention,” he said.
But provincial director for the environment department Mon Phall dismissed the allegations, saying there is no logging in legally protected Botum Sakor.
“Many of our environmental officers are guarding the national park, so there is no such illegal logging there,” he said.
The military commander in Koh Kong, Tep Vuthy, also denied that his subordinates were involved in the illegal timber trade.
“We are very busy with our work, so we do not know about timber offences,” Vuthy said.
Neang Bora Tino, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that while a lack of resources was preventing him from investigating the trade, the accusations rang true.
“We believe the rich and powerful are behind the [logging]. Simple people are not able to do this business.”
It was not clear from the NRWPO investigation if a private company was behind the deforestation, Hean added.