Rights workers and a local official in Ratanakkiri province have expressed concern over the increase in illegal logging, saying that even community leaders appointed to protect forests have reportedly gotten involved in smuggling luxury timber.
“Almost all community leaders in this province have been found doing the crime of smuggling luxury woods,” Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said yesterday.
An Adhoc rights worker met yesterday with a forestry community leader in O’Chum district after he allegedly smuggled illegal luxury timber.
The man admitted he and three other forestry community leaders were detained for about two hours by the provincial military police after they were caught in a small car in Banlung town on Saturday with some 20 pieces, each about 1.5 meters-by-25-cm, of luxury Beng and Kra Nhuung wood, according to the Adhoc rights worker, Chhouk Savath, an assistant to Mr Bonnar.
The man claimed that after the arrest, he sought help from a military police officer who agreed to pay 430,000 riel, or about $111, for their illegal cargo of wood, which is why the four men were released with the car, according to Mr Savath.
“It was my first time, and I just follow others,” the man told Mr Savath when asked why he had smuggled illegal timber.
According to Mr Bonnar and Mr Savath, dozens of forestry community leaders in the province have been implicated.
“Smuggling luxury woods to Vietnam has been done not only by powerful and senior officials,” Mr Bonnar said. “It has been reportedly done by all ranks, including the low level officials, especially even the forestry community leaders themselves.”
Cha Mao Phang, chief of Teun commune in Kon Mom district, agreed with Mr Bonnar and Mr Savath’s account, saying he has issued notices ordering more than 10 separate legal forestry communities in four villages to stop logging.
“But they don’t listen to me,” he said, adding that he plans to report to district and provincial governors so they can act.