More Than 100,000 Pieces of Rosewood Seized

Forestry officials in Siem Reap province confiscated more than 100,000 small pieces of luxury rosewood early Tuesday morning after pulling over a suspicious truck, officials said Wednesday, adding that the driver managed to flee.

Chea Kimsoth, chief of the Forestry Administration’s Siem Reap cantonment, said officials first spotted the truck on National Road 68 coming from Oddar Meanchey province at about midnight.

“Our Forestry Administration officials reported that they saw a big truck transporting cassava bags covered with a tarp,” he said. “So I ordered them to check it.”

Two officers from the administration’s Kralanh division then pulled the truck over at about 2 a.m. in Kralanh district’s Sen Sok commune, but failed to prevent the driver and his assistant from escaping while inspecting the load, Mr. Kimsoth said.

“The officials were checking the back of the truck first and then the driver and his assistant ran away,” he said.

Mong Bun Lim, chief of the Forestry Administration’s Banteay Srei division, where the haul is being stored, said 111,178 small pieces of luxury rosewood—about 19 cubic meters weighing some 23 tons—were found on the truck, hidden under bags of cassava.

“They tried to hide the evidence,” he said. “We could not arrest the driver in that incident because we had only two officials and it was dark. It was a good opportunity for those men to open the door and flee.”

Mr. Kimsoth said he did not know where the timber had been logged or stored, but that it was likely coming from an area in Oddar Meanchey province that borders Thailand, and was possibly logged in Thai territory.

“I think it was stored deep in a forest near the border because if not, the officials there would have known about it,” he said, adding that he still suspected collusion by authorities due to the size of the haul.

“I think high-ranking officials are behind the dealers because they dare to transport huge amounts of rosewood across many provinces,” he said.

It is illegal to log or export rosewood in Cambodia.

But an early 2015 report by U.K.-based environmental watchdog Global Witness revealed that logging networks controlled by timber tycoon Try Pheap were still exporting large quantities of the luxury wood, almost entirely to China.

Mr. Kimsoth said he believed that Tuesday’s 23-ton haul was headed to Thailand or Vietnam.

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