An ad hoc task force set up by Prime Minister Hun Sun last month to go after illegal timber stocks in eastern Cambodia has started sending cases to the provincial courts for prosecution, National Police spokesman Eng Hy said on Monday.
Police and Forestry Administration officials have been combing through piles of logs inside warehouses, on rubber plantations and in forests across the eastern provinces since the prime minister announced the task force’s creation on January 15.
Brigadier General Hy refused to say how much illegally logged or stockpiled wood authorities had found but said they were done taking inventory of the timber in Tbong Khmum and Kratie provinces, and in most of Mondolkiri. The task force is also at work in the provinces of Preah Vihear, Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng.
“We have finished measuring the wood in some places in those provinces, and our task force has sent documents to the court prosecutors to take action in accordance with the law,” he said. “The provincial court prosecutors will look at the documents, and they can summon any oknhas or companies that are involved for questioning. I can’t comment any more because the cases are in the hands of the prosecutors.”
Oknha is an honorific bestowed on wealthy businessmen who have donated at least $100,000 to the state.
Brig. Gen. Hy said the task force was expected to finish measuring all the timber it had found by the start of Khmer New Year in mid-April.
He said the task force had also identified 217 privately owned trucks that it believes are being used to transport illegally logged wood and would soon begin impounding the vehicles. He said authorities had not witnessed the trucks ferrying wood but were convinced of their illicit purpose, noting that their design makes them impractical for anything else.
Environmental protection groups say the government itself is heavily involved in the country’s rampant illegal logging trade, either directly or by colluding with private timber traders. They say past crackdowns announced by the government have done little, if anything, to curb the trade and remain skeptical that the latest drive will lead to better results.