Drivers of a caravan of cars transporting illegal timber through a wildlife sanctuary in Preah Vihear escaped from environmental rangers on Tuesday after hitting a checkpoint on National Route 62.
Authorities managed to stop one car out of the seven or eight in the convoy and found nearly a tonne of illegal rosewood in the vehicle, according to Meas Nhem, Boeng Peae Wildlife Sanctuary director.
According to Nhem, environmental rangers set up the checkpoint on the road near the border of Preah Vihear and Kampong Thom provinces after getting a tip-off.
A few hours later, when the convoy appeared, rangers attempted to stop them by closing the checkpoint, Nhem said. But the cars sped up and broke through the wooden barricade and continued towards Kampong Thom province.
“Our rangers chased them, and two gunshots were fired into the air. They were not aimed at us, or we would have been injured. They just wanted to threaten and stop us from chasing them,” he said.
Government-aligned Fresh News reported that the shots were fired from a military vehicle with military licence plates, quoting a ranger who said the car was clearly marked.
But Nhem said it was uncertain whether the military was involved as they could not see any of the cars clearly due to darkness.
Soldiers are often accused of aiding in the transportation of illegal timber.
One Lexus in the convoy was slowed down after rangers threw down a board with nails to puncture the tires, but the driver abandoned the vehicle at a nearby cashew plantation and escaped, according to Nhem.
Forest rangers found 122 logs of rosewood weighing nearly 900 kilograms in the Lexus along with four licence plates. The car is currently impounded at the ranger office in Rovieng district.
“It is very dangerous, but none of our rangers were injured,” Nhem said.
Meas Yoeung, provincial deputy military commander, said that he was unaware of the case and declined to comment.
Drivers of vehicles transporting illegal timber across Cambodia nearly always manage to escape when stopped by authorities, leading some observers to question authories’ commitment to stamping out the practice.