More Wood Confiscations in Kampot, but Still No Arrests

The Forestry Administration in Kampot province on Tuesday confiscated about 2 cubic meters of illegal timber from a truck in Toek Chhou district’s Stung Keo commune, officials said.

The bust is at least the third in a week, with forestry officials confiscating 200 pieces of illegal luxury wood from a forest cabin in Preah Vihear province on Saturday and thousands more found in a raid on an economic land concession in Stung Treng province on Friday.

Although these government successes have been widely touted in local media, no arrests have been made in any of the cases, leading some to question whether the political will to curb logging—sometimes linked to high-ranking military officials—is really there.

The latest case in Kampot saw no arrests, and there was even an attempt at interference in the Forestry Administration’s work by a military commander believed to have links to logging.

“When we stopped the small truck carrying illegally felled wood, the driver phoned Hok Chantha, Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) commander in the district, and he arrived in a car with six other people and tried to stop us from confiscating the timber,” Chuon Sara, provincial Forestry Administration chief, said.

“They were arguing with us, so I phoned the provincial prosecutor and when I did that they drove off in their car,” leaving the wood behind, he added.

Mr. Sara said he did not know for sure who owned the timber, but that he suspected Mr. Chantha was involved and would call him for questioning regarding the case.

In Chiva, provincial deputy police chief, concurred.

“We are now searching for involved persons in this case but the authority suspects Mr. Chantha because he has a timber depot in the local town,” he said.

Cham Rong, a manager at a timber depot in Toeuk Chhou district, confirmed the timber there belonged to Mr. Chantha.

“I am the manager responsible for buying wood for Mr. Chantha and he makes a small business selling wood at his depot,” he said.

Mr. Chantha could not be reached for comment.

In an example of how high-ranking officials sometimes escape prosecution for involvement in illegal logging, on Sunday, an RCAF brigadier general in Mondolkiri province said the authorities had dropped an investigation into a haul of illegal wood confiscated from his property a few days earlier.

After he threatened authorities with a lawsuit, they even apologized for naming him in the case, Brigadier General Chhit Meng Sreng claimed on Sunday.

Chan Soveth, deputy head of monitoring for rights group Adhoc, said Tuesday that illegal loggers should be prosecuted.

“While we welcome the confiscation of the wood, I think it’s not a total success because destruction of the forests and transportation of the logs continues,” Mr. Soveth said.

“The government should not give pardon to loggers and should condemn all perpetrators strongly,” he added.

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