Four soldiers from Border Regiment 405 were charged at Preah Vihear Provincial Court yesterday with facilitating the trade in illegal timber.
Court spokeswoman Chum Kanniva identified the soldiers as Pol Kha, 37; Khon Rin, 34; Rom Dol, 29 and Thin Pisey, 37. They are alleged to have allowed loggers from Ansaes village in Choam Ksan district to cross into Thailand in return for $10 bribes.
If found guilty, they could face up to five years in prison.
Choam Ksan district military police commander Pich Sophy said the alleged graft came to light after his officers stopped a Toyota Camry loaded with 810 kilograms of Siamese rosewood in Ansaes village on Friday.
Unlike in the vast majority of timber stops, the driver and his assistant – Uon Im, 31, and Chhoy Bie, 35 – were both arrested, and under questioning, Im identified the four Border Regiment 405 soldiers as having allowed him to bring the wood, an internationally protected species, back from Thailand.
“He hauled the wood for another trader,” Sophy said. “The driver told us about the people involved and the cash payments for passage at the Ansaes border crossing. The timber is logged in Thailand; rosewood in our country is gone already.”
Police and members of the military are widely believed to be deeply involved in the illegal timber trade, though arrests are rare. In fact, just last week, a substantial timber bust was made at the lumberyard of military official Choeung Theng – who has been implicated in the trade multiple times, including when one of his trucks loaded with timber destroyed a Kampot bridge – though no arrest was made, and Theng is believed to now be in Thailand.
Provincial military chief of staff Eng Hoeung said he was aware of the charges against the four soldiers and urged the court to proceed with the case against them.
“If the court finds that they are guilty, then the court should follow its procedures. We don’t support them committing crimes,” Hoeung said, adding that their regiment had previously explicitly prohibited soldiers to aid timber traders.
However, Lor Chann, Preah Vihear coordinator for rights group Adhoc, noted that, “Generally, it’s not possible for the timber trade to run unless there is collusion with border guards and similar officials.”
Meanwhile, Chann said, in recent months, families had reported at least 26 Cambodians going missing after crossing into Thailand in search of rosewood, usually after run-ins with Thai authorities.
With the exception of Rovieng district resident Iem Chimravy, 25, none have been heard from since.
Chimravy’s grandmother, Tith Him, 73, said that nine villagers, two of her grandchildren among them, were promised $250 a week by a timber broker to cross into Thailand in search of timber. But when they crossed the border, Thai officials began to shoot.
“We don’t know who was injured, who died, or who was arrested,” Him said.
Provincial anti-human trafficking police chief Prang Thida, meanwhile, said her office is investigating reports of up to 40 missing loggers in Thailand.