Forestry officials in Svay Rieng province on Wednesday said border guards prevented them from seizing and inspecting a trio of trucks suspected of smuggling luxury wood into Vietnam, flagging the convoy through despite their protests.
Kul Sovan, who heads the Forestry Administration’s Svay Rieng cantonment, said two of his officers saw the trucks lined up at the Bos Morn border checkpoint on Tuesday and asked the drivers to turn around and park at their office, thinking they might be hiding luxury-grade timber beneath the acacia wood the vehicles were loaded with.
“The truck drivers refused to turn back, and a border police officer opened the gate for the trucks to enter Vietnam,” Mr. Sovan said, adding that the drivers also refused to present a license for their cargo.
“The trucks were transporting the acacia trees illegally because they didn’t have a license for export,” he said.
Failing with the border police, Mr. Sovan said, the Forestry Administration called deputy provincial court prosecutor Phan Rothana for help.
Mr. Rothana said the trucks were about 300 meters past the checkpoint by the time he arrived with approximately 10 military police officers, and that he was turned back by Vietnamese police when he attempted to follow the drivers.
“I ordered the drivers to head back to Khmer land for an inspection of their cargo, but suddenly four Vietnamese police officers arrived and pushed our forces out of Vietnam,” he said.
“I asked the Khmer border police to contact Vietnamese authorities to stop the trucks because a crime occurred on Khmer land, but the border police did not cooperate with us.”
The prosecutor said the court would not be investigating the border authorities, however.
“We are now investigating to find the trucks, and we will stop them when they return from Vietnam because we know their license plates,” he said.
Border officials could not be reached for comment.
The government banned the export of timber from Cambodia’s eastern provinces to Vietnam indefinitely in January, in an apparent admission that much of the traffic was illegal. Vietnamese customs data obtained by the U.S. environmental group Forest Trends, however, show that thousands of cubic meters have continued to make it across the border each month.