The seizure of 89 pieces of luxury-grade timber stockpiled just outside the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) headquarters in Kratie province’s Chhlong district late Saturday night came only after authorities were tipped off by local residents, who claim the base on the Chhlong River had become a regular transit point for illegal timber, a local official said Wednesday.
A team of military police, local authorities and Forestry Administration officials discovered the haul of valuable Thnong wood at about 11 p.m. following the latest tip-off by villagers, who said the timber was being staged for transport south, said deputy district Governor Seng Tina.
“At first we did not believe people’s report, but after receiving a second complaint on that night, we really did find a pile of wood,” Mr. Tina said, adding that residents had been reporting similar activity since the start of the year.
Almost immediately after authorities arrived at the base Saturday night, deputy district RCAF commander Prak Vanna arrived and denied that his officers had anything to do with the logs. He claimed the wood belonged to a military police official named Heng Kunthea.
Echoing National Military police spokesman Kheng Tito’s comments Tuesday, provincial military police chief Keo Chea on Wednesday said he had never heard of Heng Kunthea.
Mr. Tina said that although district RCAF officials repudiated involvement in the wood or its transportation, the fact that it had been discovered just outside the base suggested otherwise.
“Military officials told us that they had nothing to do with the timber…but the location is under the base’s control, so we suspect that the officials in the military base are involved,” he said, adding that there was not enough evidence to prove it.
“I have already told the commander of the military unit to instruct his officials to not interfere [in the investigation], and if we find that any official has acted contrary to their duty, we will…take action according to the law,” he said.
Provincial prosecutor Ty Sovinthal said Wednesday that he disapproved of the ongoing investigation by district officials who, he said, risk defamation charges for accusing RCAF officials of illegal activity.
“We will not allow district authorities to investigate this case because it has already reached the hands of judicial police officials …but if they want to work contrary to the law, then the other side could file a complaint for defamation,” he said.