Police in Tbong Khmum province said on Tuesday that they were searching for the drivers of a military convoy that was stopped by their officers on Monday and found to be transporting illegally logged rosewood, likely to Vietnam.
According to a report published online by the National Police on Monday, two Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) cargo trucks and a lead pickup truck blaring its siren had been stopped and searched, but it failed to mention how much wood they were carrying or whether any arrests were made.
On Tuesday, provincial police chief Mao Pov said everyone in the vehicles had escaped but would not elaborate on the circumstances.
He said they had found a total of 195 pieces of rosewood in the cargo trucks and 48 pieces of Thnong in the pickup, all of it luxury-grade timber since handed over to the Forestry Administration.
“We are continuing to investigate,” he said, declining to comment further.
According to the National Police report, the trucks belonged to RCAF’s Transport Brigade 99, under the command of Major General Hul Sam On. The general could not be reached for comment.
RCAF spokesman Mao Phalla insisted that the brigade was not responsible, blaming any infraction on the individual soldiers who may have been driving the trucks.
“Commanders never order their men to do something like this because they know that if they do, they will lose their positions. It was the mistake of the individuals, not the unit,” he said.
Several investigations by environmental group Global Witness have uncovered evidence of RCAF’s systemic involvement in Cambodia’s rampant trade in illegal timber, from logistics to the logging itself.
A military police-led task force that started a sweep of eastern Cambodia in January, supposedly to stamp out the area’s illegal logging trade, appears to have completely ignored the well-documented involvement of security forces. Asked about the omission in April, National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy replied: “You don’t understand at all” and hung up.