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Trees ‘felled for pepper’

Lumber from Pchek trees is loaded onto a vehicle in Battambang’s Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary earlier this week.
Lumber from Pchek trees is loaded onto a vehicle in Battambang’s Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary earlier this week. PHOTO SUPPLED

Trees ‘felled for pepper’

Batambang's Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary is being illegally logged for pepper posts, with brokers bribing environment officers to transport the timber, residents and NGO workers have said.

According to a community member who asked not to be named, while dead trees had previously been used to produce the posts for plantations, the past month has seen a surge in the logging and shredding of resilient Pchek trees.

“Brokers are buying and hauling them out at night on home-made trucks, with about five loads a night,” he said.

Chan Socheat, an operational officer from the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, said that officials were taking bribes in order to meet the demands of pepper-plantation owners, noting that on Wednesday, he was personally offered a pay-off to turn a blind eye as timber was being transported out of the area.

Forestry officials reportedly receive about $25 per head to give passage to trucks carrying up to 300 posts, with additional fees paid to soldiers and border officials. “They contacted me willing to pay me the same, but I denied the deal,” he said. “Our mission is the opposite of other officials’. I come here to protect the forest.”

However, one local Forestry Administration official accused of taking bribes, Chhay Sareth, denied the existence of tree-felling on a large scale or related extortion. “Some villagers transport 20 to 30 posts via tractor, therefore we allow them to go freely without asking for any money,” he said.

The director of Kampong Lapov environment station could not be reached for comment, though he has previously refuted allegations of an illegal local timber trade, claiming the logs come from dead trees.

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