Timber Owner Sought After Soldier Charged in Wood Seizure

The Mondolkiri Provincial Court has charged a soldier and a landowner with illegally collecting forest products after a large stockpile of luxury wood was found in a Keo Seima district field. The owner of the wood was still being sought on Friday.

Investigating Judge Sun Pesith said he charged Thai Vat, 47, a soldier stationed with Platoon 103, and Sam Men, 48, who allowed the 173 pieces of luxury Beng wood and 58 pieces of first-grade Sokrom wood to be stored on her land in Sre Khtum commune.

“I have charged the pair and they were sent to the provincial prison for provisional detention,” he said on Thursday, declining to comment further.

Military police arrested Mr. Vat on Monday night after he was found guarding the illegally logged timber, which he claimed was bound for Vietnam, said Sak Sarun, military commander in Keo Seima district.

Mr. Vat told authorities the wood belonged to Srey Khlin, a known timber dealer who had organized protests against the military police and forestry officials after they stopped him from illegally transporting wood, Mr. Sarun said.

Mr. Khlin fled the area after the arrests and was being sought by police, a deputy district military police commander, who gave his name only as Pailin, said on Friday.

“We have known this…man to deal in the timber business for a long time, but we have found it difficult to arrest him,” Mr. Sarun said.

Yin Chanthy, commander of Platoon 103, admitted that Mr. Vat was a second lieutenant in his unit, but said he had been suspended on August 20 after authorities found 2 cubic meters of illegal wood at his house.

“Thai Vat was working in the border military unit under Platoon 103, but I deleted his name from the list,” Mr. Chanthy said. “He was found to deal in the timber business.”

Mr. Vat’s illegal behavior was reported to the chief of the provincial military headquarters, “but the chief has not yet issued a letter to fire him,” he said.

Ms. Men, the owner of the property on which the wood was found, admitted to allowing the storage of the timber.

“I allowed the wood owners to keep the wood on my land because they paid me 30,000 riels per day [or about $7.50] and they gave me a guarantee that the authorities would not arrest me if they found the wood,” she said by telephone from the court on Thursday.

Also reached by telephone at the court, Mr. Vat denied any involvement in the illegal wood trade and claimed he had been dismissed from the military.

“I had a timber business before, but I stopped the business a few months ago,” he said. “The wood belonged to Srey Khlin.”

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