A vehicle transporting 18 cubic metres of illegally logged timber was stopped on Saturday night by the Wildlife Alliance’s Wildlife Rapid Response Team (WRRT) in Kampong Speu province and is believed to belong to a military officer currently involved in a prior lawsuit over contraband timber.
According to a police official, who asked to remain anonymous, the timber was taken from the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary, which is protected by royal decree, and has since been impounded at the local forest ranger station.
The official said no arrests were made at the time.
“[The] driver and a few assistants escaped since it was so dark,” the official said. “We have made a note for the environmental officers there.”
Chea Hean, director of the Natural Resources and Wildlife Preservation Organization, which investigates forestry crime in the sanctuary, claimed the timber belonged to Choeung Theng, a military officer based in the province.
“Choeung Theng is the middleman who buys and distributes the timber to other depots in the area,” Hean explained.
“No one intercepted it since they [all] know each other.”
The court is currently investigating a claim filed by WRRT and local officials, over a similar incident, involving Choeung Theng and five others, earlier this summer.
According to reports, on June 10 WRRT stopped a vehicle transporting over 750 planks of timber logged from protected areas.
At the time, the driver bolted, but before WRRT could leave the scene, they were surrounded by six military officials, led by Choeung Theng, who attempted to reclaim the stolen timber at gunpoint.
The charges include robbery and attempted murder.
Chea Hean, however, did not dispute that it is common for villagers to bring chainsaws into the protected forests for logging.
He said approximately 30 cubic metres of timber are destroyed daily, including sokrom, pchek, raing and marinh woods.
When called for comment, Choeung Theng said his phone signal was not good enough to give an interview and hung up.
Heng Kuon, director of the Kampong Speu provincial Environment Department, said: “The timber was bought from villagers who [are] still logging in secret in this rainy season.”
Kuon said officers are working to find out the true owner of the illegal lumber and until that is determined, the case will not be sent to court.