Using anti-tank mines, the Environment Ministry and RCAF officials destroyed seven Pursat province illegal M’reah Prov oil refinery operations in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, officials said June 24.
Oil from the tree’s roots is used as an ingredient in perfume, as well as a precursor chemical to make the drug Ecstasy.
The sanctuary’s director, Thorn Kim Hong, said 10 of his officials and 10 soldiers from Military Region 5’s Battalion 1 went on a 10-day campaign that ended June 20, raiding the illegal operations in Veal Veng district. They used 10 anti-tank mines to destroy the cauldrons as well as five tankers used to store the oil. In addition, more than 20 shelters for housing workers were burned down in the operation, he said.
The cauldrons are used to extract the M’reah Prov tree oil by boiling its roots, a process that takes about a week.
“They are too thick to cut with a saw,” said Mar Chan Putha, who works for Flora and Fauna International, an environmental NGO that funded and aided in the operations.
One environmental NGO worker, speaking on condition of anonymity, estimated there are about 100 M’reah Prov operations in the Cardamom Mountains.
The refineries reveal themselves when the oil boils over, producing thick smoke on the skyline. “That’s the only time you can find them,” the NGO worker said.
Flora and Fauna International provided the Global Positioning System coordinates of the illegal refineries to the government and helped fund the operation, Mar Chan Putha both said.
Destroying the refineries is dangerous work, Thorn Kim Hong said. There are often landmines and heavily armed guards around the operations, he added.
However, no one was arrested in the operation, and officials said they did not know who was behind the oil production. Thorn Kim Hong and Mar Chan Putha said guards use radios to warn of approaching authorities, and that no one was at the scene when officials arrived.