About 60 environmental activists in Kompong Thom province stopped a truck that was transporting more than 10 cubic meters of protected wood through the Prey Long forest on Sunday evening before handing over the haul of second-grade timber and suspected smugglers to forestry officials, villagers and local authorities said Monday.
Sim Kimsorn, who monitors Sandan district on behalf of the Prey Long People’s Network—a group of activists dedicated to protecting the forest from illegal logging—said the group stopped the truck in Meanrith commune at about 8 p.m.
“We asked five people in the truck where they were taking the wood and they said they were taking it to Kompong Cham province,” he said. “We telephoned the [Sandan division] Forestry Administration chief to come and pick up the truck on the same night.”
The Forestry Administration division chief, Chhim Sakhoeun, confirmed that he impounded the truck and confiscated the wood—12 cubic meters of chhoeu teal and phdeak wood hewn into six- to seven-meters lengths—but said only two men had been in the vehicle when it was stopped: the driver, Mal Poeun, 62, and his son, whose name he said he did not know.
Mr. Sakhoeun said the men were questioned at the Forestry Administration division office, but released later that night because Mr. Poeun claimed he had to be in court the following day for an unrelated case.
“Actually, we should not have allowed them to return home, but they told us [Mr. Poeun] was going to stand trial in court, so we let them go because we now know their identity,” he said.
Mr. Sakhoeun said Mr. Poeun claimed to have been given permission to transport the wood by provincial governor Uch Sam On.
“I did not see the permission letter, but my boss [Kompong Thom cantonment chief Tep Yeata] told me that the provincial governor signed a letter giving the truck driver permission to transport wood for building a house,” he said.
Mr. Sakhoeun added that the pair will be called back if the wood they were transporting is deemed to have been acquired by illicit means. Mr. Sam On could not be reached.