Four Vietnamese nationals were charged on Tuesday with illegally collecting first-grade logs from the forest after they were arrested while transporting the wood from Mondolkiri province’s border-hugging Koh Nhek district to Vietnam.
The men entered Cambodia illegally and were arrested alongside five tractors that were being used to transport the logs back over the border in the early hours of Monday morning, said provincial deputy prosecutor Sor Vuthy.
“I charged the four people today and we sent them to an investigating judge [Tuy Sophea] to continue to manage the case,” he said, explaining that the illegal collection charges were laid under Article 98 of the Forestry Law.
Keo Sopheak, the chief of protected forests within the Mondolkiri cantonment of the Forestry Administration, said his officials arrested the four men as they were preparing to move more than 30 Sokrom tree logs.
“We had seen more than 10 Vietnamese on the five tractors, driving onto our territory at about 2:30 a.m. We arrested four people and the others ran away,” Mr. Sopheak said, adding that some 25 other tractors were observed parked on the other side of the border.
“The arrest was made after I received information from a villager who reported that many tractors were entering Cambodia and transporting wood from the protected forest,” he said.
The forestry official claimed that the four men confessed to entering Cambodia to move the wood, and said a Cambodian soldier known as “Proeum,” who serves in the provincial border military unit 103, facilitated their entry.
Mr. Sopheak also said the Vietnamese men had not themselves cut down the trees, but had only bought them.
“After investigating, we learned that most of the loggers were Bunong ethnic minority villagers from Sre Huy commune in Koh Nhek district, who cut the wood and then sold it to the Vietnamese dealers,” he said, adding his officials would arrest those responsible for the illegal logging.
Mondolkiri military commander Chhit Meng Sreng said he knows the soldier called “Proeum,” whose real name he said is “Mey Mao,” but said he was not a legitimate member of the Cambodian military’s border unit 103.
“I ordered a commander to send Mey Mao to meet me for questioning, and if we find he is really involved with the four Vietnamese like accused, I will send him to court,” he said.