Soldiers, Police Destroy 20 Illegal Tree Oil Vats

Twenty large vats used to distill illegally oil from the roots of the rare m’reah prov tree were de­stroy­­­ed last week by RCAF soldiers and police in Battambang province’s Samlot district, officials said Tuesday.

Oil from the tree, which is also known as sassafras, is used in the production of cosmetics and perfume, and, according to the UN, as a precursor chemical in the production of the drug Ecstasy.

“We destroyed 20 big steel pots in Samlot district in a seven-day operation, but no owners were ar­rested because they escaped first,” said Ek Sam On, deputy commander of Military Region Five.

He added that a group of 194 officials including police, military police and forestry officials, took part in the operation to destroy the vats, which are about 2 meters wide and 1.5 meters deep.

“Some workers found here were just educated and asked to return home,” he said.

Vietnam banned the export of sassafras oil in 1999, but Vietnam­ese companies have been involved in production of the oil in Laos and Cambodia, according to the UN.

Officials are still looking for more vats to destroy in Samlot, Ek Sam On said, adding: “We learned that they still have some in this area and they are hiding them.”

Choup Pothirit, provincial police chief, said people have been distilling the oil for a long time, but it has been difficult to stop them as they do so in the hills or deep in the jungle. He added that he did not know who was behind the production of the oil.

Mounh Sarath, director of the Angelina Jolie-funded Cambodian Vision in Development, said the military appears to have been in­volved in producing the oil.

“We flew over those mountains and saw smoke everywhered” from the oil production, he said. “We tried to see closer with heli­cop­ters, but we had to fly away be­cause we saw those people are all military,” he said.

Ek Sam On denied military officials are linked to the production. “It is done by businessmen. Arm­ed forces are not involved,” he said.


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