A national task force has begun questioning soldiers and police in charge of a border checkpoint in Mondolkiri province who are suspected of colluding with a group of Vietnamese nationals arrested last month for allegedly attempting to smuggle timber into Vietnam.
Provincial police chief Touch Yun said on Thursday that members of the task force, put under the charge of National Military Police Commander Sao Sokha in January last year to root out eastern Cambodia’s illegal timber trade, started questioning local officials responsible for the O’houch checkpoint earlier this week.
“So far, we have found that a border police unit chief was involved with the case and we are going to implement the law,” he said. “And we will punish some of the lower officials by transferring them, for example, or educating them.”
Mr. Yun identified the unit chief as Leang Phearath, who runs the checkpoint, but declined to elaborate on the case. He referred additional questions to Eng Hy, the National Military Police spokesman.
Brigadier General Hy said the task force began questioning the soldiers and police on Monday, but declined to say whom or how many. He refused to confirm an unsourced local media report that 11 police officers and seven border soldiers had been questioned so far.
“We are searching. We are investigating. That’s why we cannot tell you,” he said.
Authorities arrested the six Vietnamese men along with one Cambodian on February 22 as they were preparing to cross into Vietnam with eight trucks packed with timber that had been illegally logged from the Keo Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area. Two other trucks slipped through the checkpoint before they could be stopped.
The Vietnamese men were later charged with logging and entering Cambodia illegally. The court released their Cambodian companion on the grounds that he was merely hired as a driver.
Cambodia placed a blanket ban on timber exports to Vietnam in January last year. But Vietnamese customs data obtained by the U.S. NGO Forest Trends indicates that the trade continues to thrive.
In December, reporters for The Cambodia Daily found soldiers charged with securing the border in Kratie province facilitating the illegal cross-border timber trafficking.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Touch Yun as the provincial military police chief.