Forestry officials in Oddar Meanchey province on Wednesday discovered a timber processing plant and thousands of lengths of luxury-grade wood in a remote forested area populated only by soldiers, officials said Thursday.
The sawmill was found in Samraong City’s Konkriel commune, 20 km from the Thai-Cambodian border, according to commune police chief Mao Samnang.
Only RCAF [Royal Cambodian Armed Forces] can enter that area, and our villagers never go there, but we dare not blame soldiers,” he said.
Mr. Samnang said the sawmill had been in operation for about three months, and was owned by a businessman whom he declined to name, adding that the area where it is located is manned by soldiers from Brigade 42 of RCAF’s Division 4. “There are only small trees left now. All the good wood is gone,” he said.
Brigade 42 commander Pen Voy could not be reached Thursday.
Cheng David, a senior Forestry Administration official in Oddar Meanchey, said his team was in the process of moving the timber—most of it small pieces of luxury-grade Thnong, which can fetch thousands of dollars a square meter—out of the forest and back to headquarters in Samraong City.
He said that when forestry officials arrived at the scene, men working there scattered into the forest and could not be apprehended.
“We have not yet measured the timber, but it is thousands of pieces that were confiscated, and three saws,” Mr. David said. “Now we are investigating to find out who is the owner of the plant because it is deep in the jungle.”
According to Samraong City governor Um Sopheak, provincial governor Sar Thavy gave a speech at an Arbor Day ceremony in the city on Wednesday during which he discussed the operation to shut down the sawmill.
“But he did not blame the soldiers for illegally cutting that wood, he only said that there were thousands of pieces confiscated,” Mr. Sopheak said.