Local rights group Adhoc on October 12 accused a senior RCAF official of allegedly aiding in the illegal transportation of $30,000 worth of luxury timber from Ratanakkiri province to Phnom Penh.
Pen Bonnar, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for Adhoc, said that RCAF soldiers in Veun Sai district’s Kachon commune stopped a truck with 20 cubic meters of illegal timber for an hour on October 9 before being ordered by RCAF provincial acting Chief of Staff Van Tho to release the truck.
“They should have arrested the [men in the truck], sent them to the forestry administration and filed the case with the court,” Pen Bonnar said. Eyewitnesses allegedly saw Van Tho arrive at the scene and converse in an intimate manner with the four men found transporting the illegal timber, he said.
The RCAF soldiers “were afraid” when they saw Van Tho and released the men in the truck, Pen Bonnar added.
Major Van Tho denied the allegation, saying that he was at military headquarters in Banlung town when the truck was stopped. He also claimed that he sent reinforcements to investigate the truck while it was stopped.
“When they arrived, [the truck] was gone,” he said, adding that he did not know why the truck was released.
Ratanakkiri RCAF Commander Mong Them, said October 12 that the soldiers released the truck and its owners because they didn’t have the authority to detain people for forestry related crimes.
“We didn’t have the duty to arrest them so we released them,” he said, adding that for the month of September only, provincial Governor Muong Poy had asked RCAF to assist forestry officials in arresting illegal loggers.
“For one month, we affected [illegal loggers] and a lot of logs were confiscated,” he said.
Provincial Deputy Governor Bou Lam confirmed that RCAF has no jurisdiction over illegal logging and that only forestry officials, police and military police are allowed to make arrests.
Deputy provincial police chief Hor Ang said that he was unaware of the case, but would look into it.