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Officials blame arson for Preah Vihear wildfire

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Fire destroys over 200ha of forest at Techo Sen Russey Treb Park on Sunday. Russey Treb Park via Facebook

Officials blame arson for Preah Vihear wildfire

A wildfire in a park in Preah Vihear’s Chheb district on March 13 has left officials suspicious that it could have been deliberately lit. The fire, which has claimed about 200ha of land, could have been started by a person seeking revenge.

Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC)’s Techo Sen Russey Treb Park deputy director Chea Sambath told The Post on March 15 that a wildfire had swept through about 200ha of land. The area included seven hectares of grass for cattle, small trees and trees planted by the RAC and Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2018, or about 70,000 trees.

The trees were first-grade Beng (hardwood) tree and Sokrom (rosewood) tree, which were planted one to more than two years ago. In addition, it destroyed many trees that have were old-growth and large old trees with a diameter of 20 to 80cm, according to Sambath.

The official said that the cause of the fire is not known, but he suspected that someone started it.

He claimed that it couldn’t have started by itself. If the fire had started at one point, it would have spread to another, but this fire spread from the middle a field.

“We suspect hunters or trappers who may smoke and throw away cigarettes. Other suspects had a tractor seized by president Sok Touch. They may be angry with us. In the past, we seized the tractor while they went into the park to cut down trees,” he said.

According to Sambath, Sok had no intention of taking possession of the machine for a long time, but only a short time to prevent them from logging. It would have been returned at an appropriate time.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Fire destroys over 200ha of forest at Techo Sen Russey Treb Park on Sunday. Russey Treb Park via Facebook

However, Sambath confirmed that Sok has not made a plan to search for the suspects.

Sok could not be reached for comment on March 15.

But on March 13, Sok wrote on his Facebook page, with questions and accompanied with a video of the wildfire: “When can we get rid of this bad habit. Trees planted in the rainy season are burnt in the dry season because of one pig.”

Meanwhile, on Russey Treb Park’s Facebook page on March 15 a post stated that the forest area in the park and the trees planted by Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2018 were recently set on fire by criminals.

“A burning house could be reconstructed, but a forest that has already burnt down, could not be planted immediately. There is only the word, sorrow [Khmer proverb],” the post added.

The district police Chief Chhoun Mardy said he had not received any information about the wildfire in the park because lower-level authorities had not reported to him yet.

“If anyone informed me, I would have sent a fire truck to stop it, because I am always extinguishing fires there,” he said.

However, Mardy stated that in this area, there were always wildfires every year without anyone starting them whether they were in Techo Sen Russey Treb Park or not. But if the national park officials concluded that someone deliberately lit the fire, he would arrange officials to open an investigation.

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