Authorities in Mondolkiri province say they are searching for the people who set fire last Thursday to multiple piles of timber inside the Binh Phuoc 1 rubber plantation, which local villagers have accused of playing a role in the area’s rampant illegal logging trade.
The suspected arson follows the start of what the government says is a crackdown on illegal logging across eastern Cambodia that has seen authorities visit several plantations in search of unlicensed stockpiles.
“The Forestry Administration visited the area on Sunday to find out the cause and make a report,” deputy provincial governor Svay Sam Eang said on Sunday of the fire.
“I think a group of businessmen collected the wood from the forest and kept it there, then burned it to destroy the evidence,” he said.
“We have not yet concluded that Binh Phuoc 1 burned the wood because the company has no right to collect the wood; another company had a license to collect the wood.”
Sarou Rathana, deputy director of the Forestry Administration’s local cantonment, said he saw “a few” piles of charred logs during his visit to the site on Saturday but declined to elaborate.
“We don’t think that the Binh Phuoc 1 company burned the wood because they know they would face the law,” he said. “We think the fire was probably caused by someone else, not Binh Phuoc 1, and we are investigating to find out who was involved.”
The manager of the Vietnamese-owned plantation, Cheng Sovichet, said he had no idea who might have caused the fire.
“The wood belonged to the Duong Srouch company because the Ministry of Agriculture gave this firm the right to collect the forest products” on the plantation, he said.
In August, however, Mr. Sovichet said that Duong Srouch had transferred those rights to businessman Soeng Sam Ol.
The government has named Mr. Sam Ol as one of the prime suspects in its latest illegal logging crackdown, which began on January 15. The National Police accused Mr. Sam Ol of laundering timber through the Dai Thanh plantation in a report posted to their website earlier this month
In an interview on January 14, Mr. Sam Ol denied involvement in illegal logging.