Officials with the Forestry Administration in Mondolkiri province fired upon a fleeing truck loaded with illegally cut timber early Thursday morning and later discovered a cache of illegal logs stacked just outside the home of Keo Seima district’s council director.
However, provincial Forestry Administration chief Song Kheang said the two cases are unrelated, adding forestry officials are unconvinced that the haul of discovered logs belonged to the district’s council director Len Vanna, despite reports from local residents to the contrary.
“That pile of luxury wood we confiscated was not located inside the residential compound of the district council director,” Mr Kheang said yesterday by telephone, adding that he did not know the exact size or number of logs that were recovered from the site.
“We are still investigating who is the owner of the logs,” he said, adding that Mr Vanna was not arrested because there was not enough evidence linking him to the illegal timber haul behind his house.
However, a local villager that witnessed the forestry officials removing the logs denied that the haul was taken from beyond Mr Vanna’s property.
“Actually, that luxury and banned logs belong to Mr Vanna’s because they were kept in the compound of his house,” alleged local villager Khom Kan.
Mr Kan, who said that he saw the logs being carried in two vehicles, estimated that the haul amounted to about 8 cubic meters of wood.
Mr Kheang, the provincial forestry chief, dismissed Mr Kan’s claims, insisting that his officers found the wood outside the confines of the council’s home.
Contacted by telephone, Mr Vanna disavowed any connection to the timber.
“Those logs are not mine,” he said, declining to comment further. “They were not dumped inside my house or in the compound of my house.”
Earlier Thursday, at about 1am, forestry officials on patrol came across a small truck carrying illegally cut timber.
Mr Kheang said forestry officials fired several shots at the truck after the vehicle refused to stop after being hailed and drove away from his officers.
“My officers that patrol everyday to combat crime opened fire to stop that small truck loaded with luxury wood,” he said.
Although the bullets pierced the truck’s tires, the driver continued to flee until coming to a halt in Sre Preah commune.
Mr Kheang said the driver fled, apparently unharmed, and remains at-large. It was unclear if anyone else beside the driver was inside the vehicle.
In 2009, Mr Kheang said forestry officials seized 18 cubic meters of illegally felled timber as well as confiscated dozens of species of endangered wildlife from hunters and traders.
“Day-by-day, the smuggling of banned and luxury wood is declining because we are actively patrolling to combat such crime,” Mr Kheang said.