A group of 10 armed soldiers stormed a Forestry Administration office in Oddar Meanchey province on Monday and attempted to seize a military truck that had been confiscated from them after they used it to transport illegal timber, leading to an hourslong standoff, officials said.
The soldiers, members of Platoon 243 of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ (RCAF) Division 2, rushed into the Forestry Administration’s division office in Anlong Veng district on Monday morning and demanded the return of their vehicle at gunpoint, according to division chief Khorn Khem.
Mr. Khem accused the platoon of operating an illegal logging racket and said the unit had been under investigation by the Forestry Administration for some time before the military truck at the center of Monday’s conflict was confiscated last week. He said platoon members had long claimed—falsely—to be transporting timber for use in construction at a military base.
“Those soldiers are illegally logging and transporting without any permit papers, and our forestry officials have cooperated with military police to stop them, but they always tell us that the timber is for building the soldiers’ base, and they have been anarchically and frequently transporting timber for many years,” Mr. Khem said.
“In fact, they are selling illegal timber to make money for their own pockets,” he said. “In fact, they are taking the timber for sale. We have investigated their trucks illegally transporting timber for sale. They are not using the timber to build a soldiers’ base at all.”
Last week, Forestry Administration officers stopped and confiscated a 2 1/2-ton truck belonging to Platoon 243 that was illegally transporting six cubic meters of second-grade wood through the district, according to Mr. Khem.
And at about 9:30 a.m. Monday, the soldiers retaliated by entering the administration’s local office brandishing handguns, Mr. Khem said, adding that the commander of the platoon, whom he identified as Colonel Chorm Lam, was at the fore of the group of intruders.
“He said they must retake their truck, whether we allowed it or not,” he said of the colonel.
Mr. Khem said a handful of forestry officials in the building at the time became frightened and called district military police for help. Then, working together, the military police and forestry officials used a Toyota Land Cruiser to block the gate of the office so the soldiers could not remove their truck, he said. But despite the presence of the military police, the soldiers lingered in the compound until about 2 p.m., when they abruptly left.
“Maybe their [division] commander called them back,” Mr. Khem said.
Neither Mr. Lam nor RCAF Division 2 commander Sorn Sie could be reached for comment. Local military police also could not be reached.
Yim Phanna, the deputy commander of RCAF’s Division 4, which abuts Division 2 in Oddar Meanchey, said he was aware of Monday’s incident but blamed the Forestry Administration for being slow in “processing” the truck and returning it to the platoon.
“We heard that the soldiers from Division 2 went to take their truck from the forestry station this morning,” Major General Phanna said.
“In this case, maybe their processing was slow, making the soldiers from RCAF Platoon 243 under Division 2 want to retake their truck,” he added. “I heard that in this case, our provincial governor approved handing over the military truck to those soldiers, but our forestry officials were slow to give it to them.”
Provincial governor Sar Thavy could not be reached.