Sao Sokha Inspects Sites of Suspicious Fires in Mondolkiri

National Military Police Commander Sao Sokha Tuesday traveled to Mondolkiri province to visit rubber plantations where piles of timber went up in flames under suspicious circumstances over the past week, and urged local authorities to tighten security of stockpiles under investigation.

Under Mr. Sokha’s command, a new task force has visited dozens of sites across eastern Cambodia since mid-January in search of illegal wood stocks, including the Unigreen Resources rubber plantation and another property formerly owned by the Khmer Angkor Agriculture company. On March 2, fires destroyed dozens of logs under inspection at the two sites.

Fires have also consumed piles of wood at three other sites since the sweep began. Some authorities suspect arson by those who logged or bought the wood, in an attempt to cover their tracks.

Chea Sovanthet, a deputy prosecutor at the Mondolkiri Provincial Court, said Tuesday that General Sokha visited Unigreen, the former Khmer Angkor site and Master K Sun, another rubber plantation also under investigation by the task force.

“Sao Sokha instructed the officials from the Forestry Administration and other relevant officials that they must take care of the wood at each company before making a report or building a case for court,” he said, suggesting that some of the timber had likely been logged illegally.

The government canceled Khmer Angkor’s contract last year for unspecified infractions, but has since given timber trader Lim Bunna permission to take ownership of the wood the company left behind. Unigreen has issued a statement denying any criminal activity.

Last month, Mr. Sovanthet said complaints would soon be filed against Khmer Angkor and two other plantations, Dai Nam and Dai Thanh. On Tuesday, he said local authorities were still taking inventory of wood found at the three sites.

Another Mondolkiri plantation hit by fire since Gen. Sokha’s task force started its work is Binh Phuoc 1, which has been the target of illegal logging allegations by local residents for years.

Him Vibolrith, deputy director of the Forestry Administration’s Mondolkiri cantonment, said his staff were gathering the logs they had found on Binh Phuoc’s property into one large pile to better protect it from arson and theft.

He said they had found a total

of 4,300 cubic meters of illegally logged wood at 37 different locations on the Binh Phuoc plantation, all cut from first- or luxury-grade tree species.

“The Forestry Administration has accused Binh Phuoc 1 of illegally stockpiling wood on company property,” he said. “All of the wood is illegal and we already sent a document to court.”

The plantation’s manager, Cheng Sovichet, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. In a recent interview, he denied his company was involved in any illegal activity. He said the plantation had subcontracted the work of denuding its land to another company, which subsequently hired businessman Soeng Sam Ol for the job.

Mr. Sam Ol has also denied logging illegally.

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