Police in Kandal province on Tuesday confiscated a haul of wood, including a few pieces of precious rosewood, that was being unlawfully transported to Phnom Penh by the military for the construction of a Brigade 90 commander’s office.
The commander has appealed to Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun for the money to pay a requisite fine to the Forestry Administration, but the general is refusing to help.
Duong Teng, the police chief in Kandal’s Ponhea Leu district, said Wednesday that he and his officers were responding to a collision between a Lexus SUV and an RCAF truck on National Road 5 when they spotted the wood on the truck.
“We asked the driver for the permission letter [to transport the wood] but he told us that the wood belonged to his boss, the commander of Brigade 90,” he said.
Mr. Teng said the driver then made a telephone call and six soldiers showed up asking to take the wood with them on behalf of the brigade commander, Brigadier General Chhor Sok.
“Those military officials came to talk with me and asked to take the wood for their commander, but I refused because they did not have a permission letter to transport the wood,” he said, adding that the timber was sent to the Forestry Administration’s Prek Pnov triage in Phnom Penh.
Triage chief Um Chanrith said the haul included 11 cubic meters of second-grade chheu teal and 14 pieces of luxury-grade rosewood weighing about 80 kg.
“We will ask this military unit to pay a fine for the wood,” he said, adding that the amount had yet to be calculated. “We will keep the wood as state property even if they pay the fine, because they were transporting the wood without a permission letter.”
Brig. Gen. Sok confirmed Wednesday that the chheu teal was meant for his office but denied any knowledge of the rosewood, claiming that it must have belonged to the truck driver. He said some of the chheu teal had been logged by soldiers on a social land concession for military families in Preah Vihear province and that the rest was purchased from villagers in the same area.
“The wood belongs to my unit. We were transporting this wood from Preah Vihear to build an office for my official work,” he said.
The brigade commander said the soldiers who logged the wood on the social land concession had felled too much and so decided to have it brought to Phnom Penh rather than watch it rot.
He said his unit could not afford the Forestry Administration’s fine, however, and had sent Gen. Saroeun a request for the money.
But the general said Wednesday that he would stay out of the case.
“I will not be able to help because this is an illegal case, so we should let the authorities take action according to the law,” Gen. Saroeun said.