Authorities have unearthed another cache of high-grade logs buried near a well-known timber dealer’s sawmill in Tbong Khmum province, weeks after finding a stockpile of buried logs on the businessman’s property in the same district.
The finds come amid a government sweep of the eastern provinces for illegal wood stocks by a new task force under the command of National Military Police Commander Sao Sokha.
National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy said on Tuesday that the logs were still being dug out of the ground.
“We found a pile of luxury wood hidden in a hole behind the timber processing factory in O’Reang-ou district,” said Brigadier General Hy. “The wood was dumped in the hole and covered with earth and garbage, and today the experts from the Forestry Administration are collecting it and storing it at the factory to measure.”
He said the factory belonged to “Oknha Thai,” a well-known local timber dealer. As an oknha, he secured the royally approved honorific with a minimum $100,000 donation to the state. Brig. Gen. Hy and other officials investigating the case, however, claimed not to know his full name.
Provincial court prosecutor Heang Sopheak said authorities were tipped off to the buried logs by local residents and uncovered the wood on Friday. He said the discovery amounted to 49 pieces of Sokrom—a type of first-grade wood, a tier below luxury.
Mr. Sopheak said the logs were buried about 1 km from Oknha Thai’s sawmill, but that he did not know whether either the wood or the land it was found on belonged to the businessman.
“I do not dare conclude that the wood belongs to Oknha Thai at this time because we are investigating to find the real people involved,” he said.
Local Forestry Administration officials could not be reached for comment.
Friday’s discovery comes after authorities in O’Reang-ou district on January 18 found 84 logs buried on another piece of land that Oknha Thai had long used to store his timber.
Brig. Gen. Hy said on Tuesday that authorities had yet to determine whether those logs belonged to the oknha, either.
Since Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the creation of the task force in mid-January, dozens of high-grade logs have gone up in flames on two separate occasions in Mondolkiri province in suspected arson cases. Though the rubber plantations where the piles were burned have been accused by local residents of illegally logging outside of their boundaries, authorities investigating the cases have not identified any suspects, nor assigned any blame.
And while the task force has visited dozens of plantations, warehouses and other sites across Cambodia’s east over the past three weeks, it has yet to say whether any of the logs it has inspected were sourced illegally.
Environmental protection groups say the government is heavily involved in the country’s rampant illegal logging trade, either directly or by colluding with private timber traders. They say past crackdowns announced by the government have done little, if anything, to curb the trade and remain skeptical that the latest drive will prove different.
Under orders from the prime minister’s cabinet, all illegal timber seized by authorities must be offered for sale to Try Pheap, who has faced more accusations of illegal logging than any other timber trader in the country.