Heaps of lumber were put to the torch this week in Mondulkiri province as logging outfits allegedly attempted to destroy evidence of illegal activity in fear of impending Cambodian government raids that aim to crack down on pirate logging operations, according to a domestic rights group.
“When we look at the pieces of burnt wood, we know they are new wood,” Sok Ratha, the Adhoc coordinator based in Mondulkiri, told RFA’s Khmer service. “Forest fires aren’t causing these heaps of timber to burn. It is the intention of someone who wants to escape from their responsibilities before the law.”
On Jan. 28, Adhoc asked Cambodian authorities in charge of prosecuting forest crimes to take every action to stop destruction of evidence of forest crimes and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Adhoc’s appeal comes after hundreds of pieces of shape-cut timber were discovered on fire. Three different companies hold rights to conduct activities on concession lands in Mondulkiri. The Vietnamese companies Binh Phuoc Rubber and Dai Nam along with the Cambodian company Khmer Angkor are conducting logging activities in Mondulkiri province’s Keo Seyma district.
The burning started from Jan 21 and ran through Jan 26, sources tell RFA.
According to report by the Mondulkiri forest Administration Department, by Jan. 28, there were 240 timber pieces destroyed at the site of the Binh Phuoc Rubber company. The Khmer Angkor and the Dai Nam companies also stand accused of burning the evidence of forest crimes, but there have been no reports of the amount of timber was destroyed.
Chhit Sophal, chief of the environmental department in Mondulkiri hung up the phone when RFA called to clarify the amount of wood burnt in the Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary.
While Mondulkiri’s Forest Administration chief Vong Sok Serei expressed optimism that the government can combat the problem, he said they didn’t know who burned all the timbers.
“We don’t know who burnt the wood, but we are conducting an investigation,” he told RFA.
National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy also told RFA they were on the case.
“The authorities are doing their investigation through their technical methods,” he said. “We are investigating.”
On Jan 27, Deputy Commander of Military Police Gen. Vong Pisen led the forces to inspect in the Binh Phuoc Rubber in Keo Seyman district, but there have been no reports about that mission.
Earlier this month Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen set up a committee aimed at stopping the smuggling of timber across the border to Vietnam and warned that he will remove the governor of the southeastern province that serves as the main gateway for the logs if he and a local district official fail to curb the illegal activities.
Cambodia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, largely due to illegal logging. A report issued last year by the U.K. environmental rights group Global Witness found that government and military officials collude with businessmen to illegally cut and transport Cambodian timber mainly to China.
Reported by Ratha Sok for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Pagnawath Khun. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.