Officials in on illegal timber to VN, claim forest guardians

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The Sesan River has long been used to transport illegal logs. The image above, of illegally harvest timber in the area, prompted an investigation that was reported in 2017. Photo supplied

Forest activists in Ratanakkiri province’s O’yadav district said on Thursday that a group of Cambodian and Vietnamese traders are colluding with officials and transporting timber from their community forest to Vietnam after they had illegally felled trees there early this month.

Community members in Phi and Padorl villages allege that Cambodian trader Houv Chivay had instructed two of his representatives, Pech and Sinoeun, to lobby community forest chief Romchong Phnhorl and local authorities to turn a blind eye with a promise of a $30,000 bribe.

Sev Doeun, a community representative in Phi village, said the traders brought trucks to log and transport timber from Padorl community forest to Vietnam by crossing Phi and Potaing villages in Sesan commune.

“Our Phi community tries to protect the forest, but Padorl village community members are colluding with traders to mask the illegal activities,” he said, adding that authorities have taken no action and that the traders kept transporting timber to Vietnam by boats.

‘Local authorities are aware’

Leang, another community member who only gave his first name, said after the community reported the crime to the district authority and forestry administration, some traders paused their illicit activities while others hid in the forest, waiting for a good opportunity to ship timber to Vietnam, mostly at night.

“Local authorities are aware of the crime, but they do not crack down on the matter and do not report it to the district or provincial authorities either,” Leang claimed.

Sesan commune chief Sev Sven could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

O’yadav district governor Mar Vichet said the authority is aware of the crime and his task force had launched a probe after getting information from the community a few days earlier.

“Police are patrolling the forest. Over the past few days, we have not seen any trucks or suspects,” Vichet said.

O’yadav district military police commander Sok Min said the task force found a pile of timber on Wednesday in Potaing village between the community forest and a company’s land.

“Until now we do not know whether the timber belonged to a company known as 7 Makara or the suspects. We are looking further into the case,” Min said.

The taskforce is currently patrolling the forest and Sesan River undercover to monitor forestry crimes after the community told them the suspects were hiding in the forest or on the company’s land, he said.