Cambodia's National Police have joined the fray in an ongoing crackdown against illegal logging, starting their own “mission group” following the creation of a military police task force last week.
According to a document signed yesterday by National Police chief Neth Savoeun, the group will be chaired by provincial police chiefs from Stung Treng, Kratie, Tbong Khmum, Mondulkiri and Ratanakkari.
The statement tasks the police with investigating economic land concessions to find “the masterminds who conspire to smuggle wood” past the border.
The military police’s task force has already investigated timber belonging to at least four wealthy businessmen.
The first two were Soeng Sam Ol and Lim Bunna, but stockpiles belonging to Try Pheap, Cambodia’s most prominent timber tycoon, and Kith Meng, one of the country’s richest men, were also inspected on Wednesday.
Sorn Nimol, Stung Treng deputy police chief, said there were no results yet from inspections on Try Pheap’s timber, though timber belonging to Kith Meng in Sesan district – part of a concession to log a dam reservoir – had been determined legal.
Analysts have suggested that the highly public crackdown could be an attempt to centralise the timber racket rather than eliminate it. Try Pheap has the exclusive right to sell off seized timber, while the chair of the military police’s task force, Sao Sokha, has been accused of profiting from logging in the past.
Environment Ministry spokesperson Sao Sopheap brushed off the criticisms, however.
“The task force is staffed by the government . . . their job is to do their duty.”