A network of about 400 activists completed a five-day patrol of the unprotected 650,000-hectare Prey Long forest in the country’s north Sunday, seizing and burning illegally logged wood and confiscating chainsaws from those they discovered felling trees.
The patrol, the largest in more than a year for the Prey Long Community Network, began on Wednesday with four groups entering the forest in Kompong Thom, Kratie, Preah Vihear and Stung Treng provinces to carry out the monitoring they believe authorities have neglected.
Un Vean, 43, an activist who entered the forest in Preah Vihear, said Sunday that he led about 80 people on a patrol that covered two districts and resulted in the seizure of 12 chainsaws and 83 pieces of second-grade Phdiek wood.
“We surrounded one group with three people cutting trees, and we confiscated one chainsaw and then let those people go after instructing them not to come back,” Mr. Vean said.
“We asked the loggers and they told us that they were hired to cut wood for a middleman…and that he sells the wood to the Try Pheap company.
“We collected the wood and transported it to the village today to build a…house for the villagers who want to come and pray during Buddhist festivals.”
The activists also found more than 100 pieces of Kra Koh and Chheu Teal wood, all between 4 and 8 meters in length, and burned it, Mr. Vean said.
“We first planned to hand over the chainsaws to the provincial Forestry Administration, but we thought they might return them to the loggers. So we will…take photographs for evidence and then burn them,” he said.
Lon Larm, 61, who led activists into the forest in Stung Treng, said her group found 400 pieces of 3-meter-long luxury-grade Thnong wood, as well as Kra Koh, but had left the logs where they were.
“We have reported to the provincial Forestry Administration about the number of logs because we were not able to transport the wood out of the forest,” she said.
In Kompong Thom, Minh Ny, 38, said a smaller team of about 40 activists patrolled the forest from Thursday to Sunday and discovered what they believed to be a logging operation run by a local military officer.
“We saw at least seven trucks and more than 10 oxcarts transporting wood from Prey Long in half a day,” he said. “I asked some of [the drivers], and they told us that they were transporting the wood in the name of ‘Thea,’ and we recognized this man.
“He is the chief of the Sandan [district] military headquarters,” Mr. Ny said.
However, Sandan district governor Un Bot said that Ou Sothea, the local military commander, was not involved in any logging operations inside Prey Long.
“Sothea has never been involved in the wood business, but I believe the accusation refers to another ‘Thea,’” he said.