A group of military police in Mondolkiri province, who allegedly forced local police to release the drivers of four trucks laden with illegally logged wood at gunpoint on Friday, were moonlighting as security guards for a Vietnamese-owned rubber plantation, according to authorities.
On Sunday, Forestry Administration officials in the province said that Keo Seima district anti-economic crime police had stopped four trucks loaded with 56 pieces of first-grade Sokrom wood when seven armed military police from the district arrived, unloaded the wood and left with the trucks and drivers. Before escaping, they added, the drivers told the anti-economic crime police that the logs belonged to district military police commander Sak Saron.
According to a report provided by police Monday, the wood had been logged for the nearby Binh Phuoc Kratie Rubber 1 plantation—which, despite its name, is also in Mondolkiri—and was headed there before the trucks were stopped. The report also says that the military police who freed the trucks and their drivers were working as guards for the company, a common practice criticized by rights groups.
“This case is being handled by the Forestry Administration in Keo Seima district,” provincial police chief Nhem Vanny said Monday. “If the forestry officials want to make a complaint against them at the court, it’s out of our hands.”
Roeun Sophat, head of the Forestry Administration’s Keo Seima division, said he had not yet decided whether to take the case to court.
“We need to investigate the facts of this case before sending it to court,” he said.
Mr. Sophat said he also works for the Wildlife Conservation Society and that the Sokrom logs were being held at the NGO’s local office because it was nearer to the site where the military police had left them than the Forestry Administration’s office.
He said that Mr. Saron, the district military police commander, was still a suspect. On Sunday, Mr. Saron denied any involvement in illegal logging and threatened to sue anyone who accused him of such.
Representatives of the Binh Phuoc 1 plantation, which sits inside the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area, could not be reached for comment.
According to the police report, however, a representative of the company identified as Oknha Soeng Sam Ol visited the Wildlife Conservation Society’s office to count the logs.