Two Vietnamese nationals were arrested in Mondolkiri province as they attempted to cross the border back into Vietnam on Thursday in a tour bus loaded with high-grade timber, authorities said Sunday.
Kep Kot, director of the Forestry Administration’s Mondolkiri cantonment, said that his officers were waiting for the bus when it arrived at the Dak Dam border checkpoint and, on inspection, found 11 pieces of Thnong and six pieces of Neang Nuon—both luxury-grade timber—stashed in the luggage compartment.
“We have built the case and the two Vietnamese people were sent to the court on Friday,” Mr. Kot said.
Suy Sothea, an investigating judge at the provincial court, said the pair was charged the same day.
“I have already detained the two Vietnamese people after I charged them with crossing the border illegally and illegal transportation of wood,” he said.
Judge Sothea said he suspected Cambodians had aided the two men in their smuggling attempt, but that the investigation would have to wait until after the end of the Pchum Ben holiday on Tuesday.
“The pair told us they transported the wood for themselves. But we do not believe them because we think they could not have gotten into Cambodia if Khmer authorities had not let them,” he said.
Under Cambodian law, anyone who enters the country illegally can face up to six months in jail. An official who helps with an illegal crossing can go to jail for as much as a year.
However, Sarou Rathana, deputy director of the Mondolkiri cantonment, said his officers usually release the Vietnamese timber smugglers they catch.
“We have never sent Vietnamese people to court because this is not a serious crime, it is just transporting wood,” he said. “Following the procedure, we just confiscate the wood and make them pay the fine, then we return their vehicle.”
Environmental monitors and rights groups say the illegal transport of timber across the Vietnam- Cambodia border is rampant, and reports of local authorities fighting for control over the trade are common.