Wood seized in R’kiri, no arrests made

Authorities in Ratanakkiri province’s Banlung City raided a villa and three furniture workshops Thursday and yesterday, confiscating more than 15 cubic meters of luxury wood but making no arrests, officials said yesterday.

“The recent raids are part of a large-scale operation to crack down on illegal smuggling and storing of banned luxury woods,” said provincial court deputy prosecutor Ros Saram, who led the two raids. Mr Saram said that authorities were still trying to identify the owner of the villa and workshops and declined to name any suspects.

More than 20 officials from the provincial forestry administration, court and other agencies seized more than 15 cubic meters of Kra Nhuung wood on Thursday at the Banlung City villa, Mr Saram said.

“When our forces raided the residential villa, the landlord was not there, just a maid,” Mr Saram said.

In yesterday’s raid, Mr Saram said that some 30 officials from the provincial forestry administration, court, police, military police and other agencies raided three furniture workshops in Banlung City. He said the raid yielded a yet-to-be calculated amount of luxury woods, including Beng, Thnong and Nean Nuon.

Leng Yu, chief of the provincial forestry administration division, said the seized logs were being transported to the provincial forestry administration headquarters.

“Whenever we receive information from our network or reports from any type of sources on the suspected location of smuggled wood, we will cooperate with the court to raids those locations,” Mr Yu said.

“It doesn’t matter who the loggers are, because they must be prosecuted whenever we find they are committing forest crimes and illegal logging,” he said, before declining to comment further.

Chhay Thy, provincial investigator for local rights group Adhoc, said the owner of the raided villa was reportedly Ta Vai, a wealthy businessman embroiled in a 2,000-hectare land dispute with some 50 Jarai ethnic minority families in the province’s O’yadaw district. Contact information for Mr Vai was not available yesterday.

Mr Thy, who monitored Thursday’s and yesterday’s missions, applauded the raids, but said prosecutions need to follow.

“For these two operations, no arrests have been made, although those logs were confiscated from a home and workshops,” Mr Thy said, adding that the authorities should be able to identify the suspects. “If these operations were made without corruption, my rights group strongly believes the perpetrators must be captured for prosecution.”

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