Communities in Preah Vihear’s Choam Ksan district have alleged that soldiers are involved in the transportation of illegal timber in the protected forests of Kulen Prum Tep Wildlife Sanctuary, an allegation denied yesterday by a local military official.
Villagers in the district and NGOs said yesterday that they have witnessed soldiers wearing army fatigues and armed with rifles riding along with trucks and motorcycles carrying felled timber in the protected area over the past three weeks.
Ten Hoeun, a resident of the Cheam Sra village, said he had seen the soldiers since the beginning of January, adding that most villagers were too afraid to confront the military staffers.
“I have spotted them at least three times already. Each group includes three or four soldiers,” he said. “They go along [with the timber] in case rangers or village security try to report it.”
On each occasion, he saw at least three trucks carrying sokrom, koki, pdiek and pchoek varieties of luxury wood.
Environmental activist Ouch Leng, who investigated logging in the sanctuary three months ago, said he witnessed the same military officials engaging in the transport of illegal timber.
He added that similar activities were also being carried out within a social land concession (SLC) granted to the families of soldiers in the area.
“There were bandsaws and sawmills at military bases and in the villages,” Leng said. “The sawmill owners are the families of military officials.”
He said he was in the process of collecting documents to file a complaint to the government.
But Eng Hoeung, a provincial military commander, yesterday refuted the allegations, saying that the presence of military uniforms did not necessarily indicate soldiers, and insisting that soldiers only carry arms in approved situations.
“Sometimes, someone wears [a uniform], but they’re not a soldier,” he said.
While Hoeung said he was unaware of an SLC for soldiers in the sanctuary, Ear Sokha, the Environment Ministry’s provincial director, confirmed that an SLC had been granted, but was unaware of the details.
Peok Sophon, of local NGO Ponlok Khmer, said armed forces had been involved in forestry crimes in the area for a while now and that the NGO had been prevented from investigating the issue two years ago.