Officials Uncover Source of Convoy Lumber

Forestry officials said Thursday they have identified the source of the luxury timber that the For­estry Administration alleges was transported from Preah Vihear province to the capital in the convoy of Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema last week.

A North Tonle Sap region forestry official and a Preah Vihear forestry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Thursday the timber was loaded from Kor Muay village in Choam Khsan district in Preah Vihear. Their claims were backed by reports from villagers, they said.

Several officials also alleged this week that the owners of the timber consignment were two high-ranking municipal officials.

One of the officials named denied those allegations on Thurs­day, but admitted some wood was traveling with the governor’s  convoy.

“I don’t have even a single piece of wood,” Nuon Someth, deputy Cabinet chief of the municipality, said Thursday. But, he added, “We acknowledge that there were a few pieces, one to two pieces of wood, with the convoy.”

No one at City Hall, including Kep Chuktema, has denied that wood was traveling with the convoy.

Several forestry and police officials, however, have alleged that as much as 25 cubic meters of timber, worth thousands of dollars, was traveling with the convoy. Prime Minister Hun Sen staked his job on ending illegal logging and imposed a logging moratorium in December 2001.

Details of what took place on the journey from Preah Vihear to Phnom Penh included claims this week that in Kompong Thom province, a member of the municipal convoy slapped a forestry official. In Kompong Cham province, when police and forestry officials eventually stopped the truck, military police with the convoy fired in the air and shot out the front tires of a forestry car, officials said.

The municipality has denied that members of the convoy shot at the truck, alleging instead that forestry officials fired on their convoy.

“It’s really bad that they use a truck to block the road when the convoy is on the way. If they want to inspect the truck, why don’t they follow until we get to City Hall and ask the governor for permission to inspect it?” the municipality’s Nuon Someth said Thursday.

Than Sarath, deputy director at the Forestry Administration said it is Forestry Administration protocol to stop a truck if officials receive a report that it is transporting timber illegally.

The Preah Vihear forestry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Thursday that investigators are now trying to find the stumps from the cut wood, because they are “the best evidence.”

He said he would finish a re­port today and send it to the For­estry Administration in Phnom Penh.

The Preah Vihear official said he had reports that the suspect truck carried foodstuffs from Phnom Penh to Preah Vihear with the convoy, then disappeared for two days.

During that time, villagers in Kor Muay village said the truck took three loads of wood to Anlong Veng district in Oddar Meanchey province. The truck then returned, loaded up once more with wood and joined the convoy for the return journey to Phnom Penh on March 11.

Kep Chuktema refused to comment Thursday, saying he had sent a letter to Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun.

“Please wait for the ministry to investigate,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Van Roeun)



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