After a stern warning from Prime Minister Hun Sen in January, the military has established a committee to combat illegal logging operations carried out by soldiers in Preah Vihear province, senior RCAF commanders said yesterday.
The committee was formed at a meeting last week presided over by General Kun Kim, chief of the RCAF joint staff, at a military base in Oddar Meanchey province’s Anlong Veng district, according to Major General Srey Dek, commander of the 3rd Division.
“The committee has been set up. We set it up to defend the border and to prevent our people from crossing to log in Thailand,” General Dek said.
The committee is also “to prevent our soldiers from being involved in alleged logging activities,” he said.
Senior RCAF officials in Preah Vihear province said last week that the committee was set up after Prime Minister Hun Sen gave a strong warning during a speech at the Defense Ministry in January for troops to end their involvement in illicit logging.
He said soldiers should preserve forests in the area where they are stationed, while the army’s policies should include “protecting natural resources and call on the military officers to lend a hand in cracking down on luxury wood smugglers.”
But government officials in Preah Vihear province said this week they have seen no reduction in logging by military units.
Song Yi, chief of the forestry division in Preah Vihear’s Choam Ksan district, questioned how the military could crack down on the loggers considering many of the culprits already work for the army.
“The soldiers like doing logging and businessmen like hiring the soldiers to transport luxury wood for them,” Mr Yi said. “When military officials crack down on logging it means they protect logging.”
On Sunday, Mr Yi said, forestry officials spotted six trucks carrying rosewood from Border Police Battalion 401 to the 3rd Division in Choam Ksan district.
Then on Monday evening Mr Yi said forestry officials witnessed seven more trucks transporting wood between the headquarters of the 9th Brigade and the 3rd Division.
In total, around 50 cubic meters of rosewood was transported and is believed to be worth about $160,000, he said.
Brigadier General Kul Vay, commander of the 9th Brigade, denied claims that his soldiers were involved in illicit logging.
“Division 3 confiscated the wood from businessmen who had transported it from the forest,” he said. “My soldiers are not involved with this wood.”
When questioned about the matter Major-General Dek declined to comment and referred questions to Lieutenant General Chea Dara, the RCAF tactical director and deputy commander in chief who is heading the committee to crack down on soldiers suspected of illegal logging activities.
Lieutenant General Dara could not be reached for comment.
Sar Thavy, deputy governor of Preah Vihear province, said on Monday that the military were heavily involved in illegal logging activities in the area and that the situation there was out of control.
“I can not address this problem. It’s giving me a headache,” Mr Thavy said.