Military paratroopers descended on several small-scale illegal logging operations in Kompong Speu and Pursat provinces last week, burning equipment and sawmills, officials said Sunday.
Eang Saveth, deputy chief of the southern Tonle Sap inspectorate, said the soldiers rappelled from helicopters into 10 different places in the two provinces on Tuesday.
The soldiers seized and burned four chain saws, three small tractors and 422 logs found in Kompong Speu’s Aural and Thpong districts and Pursat’s Phnom Kravanh district, but no arrests were made.
The illegal loggers “escaped when they heard the sound of the helicopters,” Eang Saveth said. “They are clever at escaping.”
Ox carts full of wood were also confiscated from villagers, Eang Saveth said.
“When we confiscated their ox cart and ox, they cried and implored us to give them back,” he said. “We pitied them and just warned them not to log again.”
Eang Saveth said that because the government began cracking down on large-scale illegal logging in 2001, the majority of operations are small-scale affairs now operated by local villagers trying to make money.
Forestry administration director Ty Sokhun said paratroopers were used because many of the logging operations were located in places that were hard to reach by vehicle.
He said the operation was prompted by the government’s desire to crack down on illegal logging and was preceded by several surveillance flights.
But a military police officer, who asked not to be named, said the operation was likely to have little effect on illegal logging in the area.
“They have done it, but it is a very small [crackdown],” he said.
Global Witness released a report in November alleging top government officials were responsible for widespread logging operations in Aural Wildlife Sanctuary, where dozens of villagers were still transporting wood on Friday.
The government launched a similar paratrooper operation in Pursat province near the Thai border in December 2000.
At the time, 16 Thai nationals and three Cambodians were arrested.