Forestry, Military Officials at Odds Over Legality of Seized Timber

Forestry and police officials in Mondolkiri province on Tuesday said five people arrested over the weekend with two truckloads of timber were not hauling illegally logged wood, even as the military commander who arrested them maintained they broke the law.

Lieutenant Colonel Yin Chanthy, who commands the military’s 103 border unit, said that he and his officers stopped the trucks loaded with logs and sawn planks of first-grade wood on Sunday night as they headed from the Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary to the Unigreen rubber plantation. They seized the trucks and timber and arrested the five people on board.

On Tuesday, however, the head of the Forestry Administration’s local cantonment, Vong Sokserey, said the group had a license that permitted the delivery.

“We will not send the five people to court,” he said. “They did nothing wrong because they were transporting wood for the company and the wood was stamped and recognized by the forestry administration.”

Mr. Sokserey declined to answer more questions or explain why the administration would give Unigreen permission to collect wood from a wildlife sanctuary outside its property.

Early last year, authorities seized nearly 240 cubic meters of illegally logged wood on Unigreen’s property. They have yet to press charges against the company or anyone else for sourcing the wood, but have since sold it on to another businessman.

Koh Nhek district police chief Khlaut Sophea, who was still holding the group of five as of Tuesday afternoon, also said the wood they were transporting was legally sourced and that they were merely moving it from Unigreen’s warehouse to its sawmill, both located on the company’s property.

Lt. Col. Chanthy, who made the arrests, insisted on Tuesday that the wood had been logged illegally inside the wildlife sanctuary and that the group was caught a kilometer outside Unigreen’s rubber plantation.

He said he and his officers had followed the trucks’ tracks from the sanctuary and that the unstamped wood showed signs of being recently logged.

“I am sure the five people brought the wood from the Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary,” he said. “It’s my job to stop crime and arrest criminals and hand them to the experts at the Forestry Administration. But if they release the criminals, I have no right to protest.”

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