Military police in Kratie province said that an SUV they stopped early on Monday morning for trafficking high-grade timber was commandeered by a group of armed soldiers who drove it and the timber away.
It is the latest in a series of reports of soldiers swooping in to take away, or try to take away, timber seized by another government agency.
Ol Chhay, military police commander in Kratie’s Snuol district, said two national-level military police officers stopped the SUV at about 2 a.m. along National Road 76 and found it packed with unlicensed, first-grade Kra Koh timber. He said they were waiting for more officers when a group of armed soldiers arrived at about 3 a.m. and made off with the vehicle and the wood.
Mr. Chhay declined to explain how the soldiers commandeered the vehicle from the armed military police officers.
“We received a report that the suspects [soldiers] took it into a military barracks,” he said, naming the barracks as Company 1 of the border protection Battalion 204.
“We asked them to check inside the barracks, but we could not find that vehicle,” he added. “They told us it was not true, but I don’t think they told us the truth.”
The district commander said the military police would continue searching for the missing timber.
Provincial military police commander San Bunthan declined to comment and referred questions to national military police spokesman Eng Hy, who also declined to comment.
Company 1 commander Oth Bunkim denied that his soldiers had anything to do with the incident. He said the military police arrived at his barracks at about 7 a.m. and searched the compound for about two hours, finding nothing.
“I let them search my barracks,” he said. “If they find the wood, please take it back. But they could not find anything.”
It would not be the first time that soldiers were found nose-deep in the country’s illegal timber trade. Timber trafficking by soldiers has been well-documented by NGOs. Other government agencies even complain on occasion about soldiers taking the timber they seize.