A total of 25 vehicles illegally hauling firewood were intercepted yesterday in Kratie province’s Snuol district by a massive task force of police, Military Police and Forestry Administration (FA) officials – though despite the show of force, none of the transporters were arrested.
District Governor Kong Kimny said the vans gathered in Khyoem commune before attempting to drive as a convoy to Tbong Khmum province. After authorities assembled a force of nearly 100 men, the vehicles were intercepted despite attempts by some of the van drivers to block police from National Road 7 and facilitate a getaway.
The district governor believed the smugglers may have had advance knowledge of the operation, a common problem impeding efforts to stop logging.
“The owners of the wood and drivers seemed to be alerted and well prepared, so when the crackdown began, they escaped, leaving only the wood behind,” he added.
Kimny said authorities believe the wood was logged from nearby farmlands and forests, and had been kept along the national road before “outsiders” came to buy and transport it. He said only “a few local villagers” were involved, though it was unclear how he knew of their identities if no arrests were made.
“Such illegal activity is the reason for the destruction of our last forests,” he said, adding that FA officials are measuring the haul.
Conservationists have long linked the high rate of escaped suspects to a pervasive conflict of interest within law enforcement. Arresting and prosecuting those involved in forest crime, they contend, risks the exposure of authorities’ own involvement in the racket.
However, Be Vanny, provincial monitor for rights group Adhoc, said that the authorities likely shied away from arresting the van drivers for fear that other villagers would protest their arrest and prosecution.“Authorities just want to warn them to stop transporting the wood,” he said.
Separately, in Kampong Speu’s Thpong district, a driver and an assistant were detained after authorities intercepted a truck loaded with 14 cubic metres of medium-grade mrenh timber. The FA website later identified the pair as Ket Yang, 45, and Roeun Sokhom, 36.
According to provincial Military Police Commander Chou Sarun, the suspects are being held for questioning at the provincial Military Police base, while the truck and timber are at the FA office in Oral district.