Military police stopped five vehicles carrying large amounts of luxury and first-grade wood in three provinces this week, including a massive haul of more than 5,400 cubic meters of timber in Kratie province, officials said on Thursday.
National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy said the confiscated wood was not freshly logged, however, and claimed that not a single tree had been illegally cut down since an anti-logging task force began its work in January.
In Kratie, military police confiscated 5,431 cubic meters of luxury Thnong and first-grade Sokrom wood in Chet Borei district on Tuesday night and arrested the two drivers, Brigadier General Hy said. He did not identify them, saying he could not recall their names.
On the same evening, a 58-year-old man, Sum Sen, was arrested in Mondolkiri province after military police found 1.32 cubic meters of luxury Beng wood inside his Land Cruiser SUV when he was stopped at a checkpoint in O’Reang district, Brig. Gen. Hy said.
Officials in Stung Treng province recovered 1.54 cubic meters of Thnong on Tuesday, but the driver escaped, while on Wednesday afternoon, military police in Mondolkiri’s Keo Seima district nabbed 1.2 cubic meters of Beng, but the driver escaped on foot, he added.
Despite the confiscations, the spokesman claimed that illegal logging had been completely stamped out since a task force was created by Prime Minister Hun Sen in January to eradicate the problem in the country’s eastern provinces.
“We have sent our network to collaborate with local people and we received information that they were preparing to transport the wood from a forest and some houses in each of the above provinces, then we deployed the forces to stop the transportation,” he said.
“The illegal logging has been completely stopped and the wood that we have just confiscated was logged a long time ago and then hidden in the forest and the houses of the loggers,” he said.
This year’s push to prevent illegal logging is the latest in a long line of similar initiatives, all of which have left local communities and environmental groups highly skeptical of the government’s commitment to actually stopping the trade.
Try Sopheak, head of the Forestry Administration’s Kratie cantonment, said the pair caught with more than 5,400 cubic meters of wood were being held at the military police headquarters and would be sent to the provincial court today. He said he could not provide their names as he did not have the case file on hand.
Mondolkiri provincial court deputy prosecutor San Sopheak said Mr. Sen was charged with illegally transporting wood and collecting forestry products, and was in provisional detention at the provincial prison.