Army Truck Carrying Illegal Timber Kills Family

A family of three, including an 18-year-old girl, died Friday when the driver of a military truck carrying illegally cut wood slammed into their motorbike in Siem Reap province, officials said yesterday.

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This army truck was carrying illegal timber when it hit a motorcycle, killing three in Siem Reap province on Friday, a Forestry Administration official said. (Khena Ra)

The family died at the scene while the occupants of the military truck, seen by witnesses wearing Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) uniforms, escaped on foot.

Banteay Srey district police chief Uy Vanna said the details of the accident were still under investigation but that reports indicated the truck, a U.S.-model camouflaged GMC 10-wheeler, was speeding when it struck the motorbike on National Road 67 at approximately 6:30 p.m.

“The military truck had no military plates and no [military] logo, but the truck is a military truck, and the driver is at large. Now, our police are investigating to find out their identities,” Mr. Vanna said.

“The military truck belongs to soldiers in Anlong Veng district, Oddar Meanchey province, according to the investigating police,” he added.

He said witnesses reported seeing between three to four men in RCAF uniforms immediately flee the truck, which they abandoned along with its haul of first- and second-grade timber.

Thong Sokhaiy, the Forestry Administration chief in Banteay Srey district, said the timber in the truck had been illegally logged.

“All of the wood being transported in the truck is illegal. They did not have a permit letter,” he said.

“Our forestry officers sometimes turn a blind eye to them,” he conceded, claiming his officers were often afraid to intervene when they came across members of the armed forces who were involved in illegal logging.

Mr. Vanna identified the victims as Toch Tanh, 38, his wife Sem Sao, 36, and their daughter Tanh Phoen, 18, and said the bodies had been returned to their relatives in Prasat Bakorng district, where they were cremated yesterday.

Brigadier General Nuon Nov, the deputy commander of RCAF forces in Anlong Veng district, declined to comment on the crash or the haul of timber.

International forestry monitor Global Witness has long claimed that some RCAF units were heavily involved in transporting illegally cut wood across the country. Human Rights Watch and the opposition SRP has also urged the U.S. to suspend military aid to Cambodia,  claiming that donated equipment and military training, could lead to abuses against civilians.

In June, when SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua last urged the U.S. to suspend its military aid, the U.S. Embassy defended the arrangement. “The U.S. government maintains an interest in developing the professional capacity of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. Our assistance to this end complies with U.S. law and department regulations,” the embassy said at the time.

In a separate incident, the bodies of two RCAF soldiers alleged by Thailand to have been shot dead by Thai soldiers while logging illegally inside Thai territory were repatriated Thursday, according to local officials.

Ou Chansokha, a police officer at the O’Smach International Checkpoint in Oddar Meanchey province, said the bodies of Norn Thea, 27, and Chat Choem, 21, were delivered to Cambodian officials at the international border crossing and that an accompanying Thai military report accused them of logging in Thailand illegally.

RCAF Major Hien Sok, stationed in nearby Samraong City, said the soldiers were part of the 4th Division’s 8th Company stationed along the border.

RCAF Lieutenant General Chum Serey, a military liaison for the area, declined to address the double shooting or the illegal logging claim.

“You shouldn’t want to know about this shooting. You only need to know our border soldiers are working hard,” Lt. Gen. Serey said.

So far this year, at least 30 Cambodians have been shot dead by Thai soldiers, allegedly while illegally logging in Thailand.

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