A truck was pulled over while attempting to transport luxury wood into Vietnam via a commonly used timber-transporting route through Ratanakkiri province on Wednesday night, according to officials, who gave conflicting versions of what happened to the driver.
Preap Karat, head of the Finance Ministry’s customs department, said he cooperated with local security forces to stop the truck as it arrived at the the O’Yadaw International Checkpoint, which is about 1 km from a special economic zone owned by timber baron Try Pheap. The checkpoint is connected by National Road 76 to some of the country’s most dense forest.
The forces, including armed provincial military police, surrounded the truck after it stopped at the checkpoint, Mr. Karat said, but the driver managed to flee.
“We cooperated with the border police and military police to stop the truck at about 9:30 p.m. but the driver escaped on foot,” Mr. Karat said, adding that it was too dark for police to clearly see the perpetrator.
“I wish to state that drivers committing crimes never let authorities arrest them because they realize they would face jail,” he said, adding that customs officials and military police were too busy assessing the load of timber on Thursday to search for the driver.
Kim Raksmey, commander of the provincial military police, said that his forces did not help the customs officials stop the truck and that when they did arrive, the driver had already fled and customs officials had finished unloading the logs.
“I do not know why the driver was able to escape. But he left the key,” Mr. Raksmey said.
Ang Keara, chief of the customs office at O’Yadaw checkpoint, confirmed the raid but said that the driver had been apprehended.
“We do not know who owns the truck but we arrested the driver; he is Khmer,” Mr. Keara said. “We sent the truck and the driver to the provincial customs office while we inspect the timber.”
The O’Yadaw checkpoint connects the rich forests of Ratanakkiri with Vietnam, where much of Cambodia’s plundered timber is sold on a thriving international market.
A report released in February by environmental watchdog Global Witness said that over a 14- day period, investigators witnessed an average of 15 loaded logging trucks crossing at O’Yadaw each day, each of them belonging to Mr. Pheap, who has the right to all timber felled inside Ratanakkiri’s many economic land concessions.
Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said that Wednesday’s raid was a “big event,” because vehicles transporting wood through O’Yadaw either have a license to do so or are permitted to cross anyway.
“We have seen many vehicles and motorbikes unlawfully transporting wood to Vietnam via the O’Yadaw and Andong Meas checkpoints, but I have never seen authorities stop them,” he said.