Three Vietnamese Arrested Smuggling Timber Across Border

Three Vietnamese nationals were arrested in Kratie province on Saturday night after the occupants of a convoy of trucks allegedly opened fire on authorities at a checkpoint before escaping across the border to Vietnam, officials said Monday.

Local media reported that 18 trucks loaded with luxury-grade timber blew through the Trapaing Kranhoung border checkpoint in Snuol district, their passengers firing on authorities as they passed. Contacted Monday for details, however, officials were guarded.

“We arrested three Vietnamese suspects involved in the case,” said Snuol district military police commander Ol Chhay, declining to name the men. “They are being detained at our headquarters for questioning,” he added.

Mr. Chhay said the three men, all in their 30s, were arrested at about 7:30 p.m., and that their truck, which was loaded with 19 cubic meters of first-grade kra koh and sokrom timber, was being held at the customs office at the nearby Trapaing Sre international checkpoint.

Asked to clarify the reports of 17 trucks escaping under a hail of gunfire, Mr. Chhay would not provide details.

“We could only stop one truck because the other trucks were gone,” he said, referring further questions to national-level military police and customs officials, who he said were handling the case.

Brigadier General Kheng Tito, spokesman for the national military police, said the case was being handled by his officials, and denied that shots had been fired.

“That is not true,” he said. “I am not sure of the specifics, I just know they were smuggling [timber] from inside the country out of the country.”

The spokesman provided an excerpt from a military police report stating that five customs officials, 10 national military police officers and four Snuol district military police officers had been at the Trapaing Kranhoung checkpoint awaiting the convoy of trucks.

The operation was led by Hak Vor, head of the Finance Ministry’s mobile customs team, according to Brig. Gen. Tito.

Mr. Vor could not be reached.

Vu Le Ha, a counselor at the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh, said he was not aware of the arrests. “I have not received that information,” he said.

Sim Hun, the chief of Pi Thnou commune, where the Trapaing Kranhoung checkpoint is located, said he heard significant gunfire on Saturday night.

“We were not called to join the operation, but I heard military police exchanging gunfire with the illegal loggers—many rounds,” he said, adding that he then went to the checkpoint soon after. “I am not sure if there were any injuries because they cleared the scene quickly.”

Keo Vath, chief of the Trapaing Kranhoung police station—which covers Pi Thnou and Khsoem communes—also said that weapons were discharged on Saturday night, having visited the scene and found shells the next day.

“We did our job to see what is true and what is false,” he said. “There was gunfire.”

(Additional reporting by Matt Blomberg)

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