Fire Destroys Suspected Illegal Timber Pile

Mondolkiri provincial governor Svay Sam Eang said Sunday there was yet another pile of timber of dubious legal provenance that went up in flames under mysterious circumstances on Wednesday, the same day a suspicious fire consumed a large pile on the Unigreen Resources rubber plantation.

Last week, local authorities said a nearby forest fire consumed an unknown number of large, valuable logs cut from first-grade tree species being stockpiled on Unigreen’s property, prompting an investigation.

On Sunday, Mr. Sam Eang said the fire destroyed about 100 logs.

“We had deployed our forces to guard the wood every day,” he said. “But my officials told me the fire started in the forest, and I don’t know who started it…. We can’t conclude the company burned the wood because we don’t have evidence, but our officials are investigating to find the reason for the fire.”

The governor said Unigreen had already paid tax on the wood, but he did not say whether the company had been allowed to keep it, or if it had been fined.

The Forestry Law requires that those found stockpiling timber without a permit be fined two to three times the value of the wood and that the material be confiscated.

Following the start of a government sweep of the eastern provinces for illicit stockpiles in mid-January, Unigreen issued a statement denying any involvement in illegal logging.

Mr. Sam Eang added Sunday that another 30-odd logs had gone up in flames on the former Khmer Angkor Agriculture land concession the same day as the blaze at Unigreen and under the same circumstances.

“The fire started in the forest, and our officials tried to stop it but could not because there was no source of water in the area,” he said. “It’s easy for this to happen now because it’s the dry season and we have a hard time preventing fires.”

The fire at the old Khmer Angkor site is at least the fifth blaze to consume a pile of wood authorities were investigating since the start of the sweep. Authorities and rights groups alike have said they suspect the people who logged or bought the wood started the previous fires to destroy evidence.

The government canceled Khmer Angkor’s concession in early 2015 for unspecified reasons.

Days after the sweep was announced, then-Mondolkiri governor Eng Bunheang said the same plot of land reclaimed from Khmer Angkor had been given out to businessman Lim Bunna as a new concession, a move that would violate a 2012 moratorium on new concessions.

The following day, Agriculture Ministry spokesman Eang Sophalleth said Mr. Bunna had only been given permission to take ownership of the the logs left behind by Khmer Angkor but refused to release a copy of the deal.

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