A pile of illegally logged wood discovered by police in Ratanakkiri province earlier this month along a road built by a local rubber plantation often accused of illegal logging has since gone missing, a Forestry Administration official said on Sunday.
On Tuesday, the head of the provincial police force’s economic crimes bureau, Neou Dara, said his officers had found the 116 logs of first-grade Sokrom timber piled up along the road on July 3, following a tip from locals earlier that morning.
At the time, Mr. Dara said he had not ruled out the possibility that Rama Khmer, the rubber plantation that had built the road, was responsible but added that he suspected it was not because its property was about 30 km away from the site.
But according to the Forestry Administration, the large pile of wood vanished at some point during the next two days.
On Sunday, the head of the administration’s local triage, Long Silab, said he and his staff went to retrieve the logs on Tuesday only to find them gone. “We went to the area to move the wood and take it to the Forestry Administration cantonment office in the provincial capital, but the wood was gone,” he said.
Mr. Silab said they saw tire tracks around the spot where the logs had been, probably from the small tractors ubiquitous in rural communities, leading into the surrounding forest. But he said they could not follow the tracks because the recent rains had made the path impassable, and he suspected the logs had been dumped nearby for the same reason.
“We think the wood was not moved far away from the area because of the heavy rains,” he said, adding that a 10-man team, including some district police officers and local soldiers, were still searching for it.
Like the provincial bureau police chief, Mr. Silab said he also did not suspect the rubber plantation, not because it was several kilometers away but because, he claimed, it had been inactive for the past two years.
He instead suspected the local ethnic minority Jarai villagers of taking the wood.
Mr. Silab said he had spotted Jarai men appearing to tail them suspiciously on a motorbike when he and his officers were driving toward the site where the logs had been on Tuesday. From that he later deduced that their uninvited guests must have been the loggers.
“We think those two people moved the wood and hid it in another place,” he said.
Local villagers have accused the Rama Khmer plantation of illegally logging their community forests for years and say authorities have done nothing about it. Authorities say they have been unable to corroborate the villagers’ claims.