Authorities in Stung Treng province arrested 12 people smuggling several dozen high-value logs down the Sesan River on Friday, but plan to release them once they pay a fine.
Puy Wey, head of the provincial military police’s judicial bureau, said Sunday that he and his officers saw the four boats floating low-grade wood down the river Friday night and inspected the cargo to see whether they were smuggling higher value timber underneath, a common technique.
He said they found about 80 logs lashed to the bottom of the ones floating on the surface.
“We stopped the boats and called the Forestry Administration to take action against the illegal transportation of wood and they arrested the 12 people,” Mr. Wey said.
Ly Kurn, head of the Forestry Administration’s Stung Treng triage, said the logs the boatmen were smuggling were luxury-grade Thnong and first-grade Sralao and were each about 2 meters long.
He said his officers arrested the 12 men for transporting the wood without the required permits and were now in the process of moving the logs to the administration’s regional office.
“We have already transported one truck full of the wood to the [Stung Treng] Forestry Administration cantonment and we are gathering the rest of the wood on the riverbank to put on trucks, too,” he said.
However, Mr. Kurn said the detained men would be released if they pay their fines.
“We will not send the 12 people to court because they committed a minor crime,” he said. “But we require them to pay the fine following the Forestry Law. In case those people refuse to pay the fine, then we will send them to court.”
He said the administration was questioning the men in the meantime to find out whom they were transporting the wood for.
The Forestry Law stipulates that those found transporting wood without a permit will be fined an amount between two and three times the value of the seized timber. A cubic meter of Thnong can sell for hundreds of dollars.
Mr. Kurn said he did not yet know the value of Friday’s haul because it had yet to be measured.
Reports of illegal logging and timber smuggling in Stung Treng have mushroomed since work started on clearing a reservoir for the province’s Lower Sesan II hydropower dam in 2013.
Last year, a lawmaker from the ruling CPP accused those clearing the area of logging well outside of bounds, and that local officials were failing to address the problem.
“We crack down on citizens, but the big smugglers are free,” Loy Sophat, the province’s former governor, told the National Assembly at the time.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Ly Kurn as head of the Forestry Administration’s Stung Treng cantonment. He is head of the Stung Treng triage, which is overseen by the cantonment.