A shelter used by the Forestry Administration in Mondolkiri province was reduced to ashes over the weekend in what some officials are calling an act of arson perpetrated against the agency by individuals involved in illegal logging in the area.
The arson attack comes just three days after forestry officials exchanged gunfire with a fleeing truck loaded with illegally cut timber and later discovered a cache of illegal logs stacked behind the home of the Keo Seima district council director.
The weekend blaze destroyed the four-by-six meter wood structure with a metal roof in Keo Seima district Sre Preah commune and was unoccupied when the fire began likely late on Saturday, said provincial Forestry Administration chief Song Kheang, adding that officials with the agency discovered the damage early Sunday and contacted police.
“We have already complained to police to find the suspects and the motivation of this intentional fire,” Mr Kheang said yesterday.
He added the small building was constructed in 2007 as a temporary shelter for forestry officers patrolling in the area and that no documents or equipment were lost in the blaze.
On Friday, Mr Kheang said forestry officers fired several shots at a truck packed with logs after it refused to stop and drove away from officers on patrol in the district. Yesterday, Mr Kheang stated that his officers fired only once to stop the truck but were then shot at from the escaping vehicle, which prompted his officers to return fire. The truck’s tires were punctured and the vehicle came to a halt in Sre Preah commune where the occupants escaped leaving behind their timber haul.
The same day as the shooting, forestry officials also uncovered logs outside the home of Keo Seima district council director Len Vanna. Mr Vanna disavowed any connection to the timber.
In total, the administration seized more than five cubic meters of valuable wood last week.
Keo Seima acting district police chief Heng Oung said police are considering the fire as a warning directed by the illegal loggers at the Forestry Administration. He based his assumption on reports from local villagers and provincial officials.
“The fire was set in revenge by illegal loggers to warn the officials that dared to crack down and confiscate their logs,” Mr Oung said, adding the building was set in a clearing in the forest. “The fire was an intentional attack.”
Mr Kheang stopped short of connecting the agency’s earlier run-in with the loggers to the weekend blaze, saying he was still investigating both crimes.
“It is the first time that we have had our office, even if it was a temporary one, burned down to the ground,” he said, adding the administration would rebuild the shelter in the same location.