The smuggling of illegally cut timber from northeastern Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province to Vietnam has dramatically increased since around April 17, with smugglers traveling the roads between the two countries day and night, sources in the region say.
Villagers living in the Sesan commune in Ratanakiri’s O Yadav district have urged authorities in the capital Phnom Penh to take action against the smugglers, who now use SUVs and other “luxury” vehicles to avoid detection, one villager told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“Before the [Lunar] New Year, they used big trucks. Now they use luxury cars,” the villager said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They go back and forth from six to seven times a day,” he said, adding, “I am angry, because the air is filled with dust and I can’t sleep at night.”
Those involved in the smuggling may be members of two land concession companies responsible mainly for protecting local land and its resources, villagers told RFA.
Speaking separately to RFA, provincial forestry administration official Kep Kot said that he is now working to investigate accusations of illegal logging and smuggling in the area, and to ensure that companies operating as government concessions are working within the law.
“I will ask my officers to verify the information,” he said.
National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy meanwhile confirmed he had received reports of increased smuggling in the region, adding, “I have asked provincial authorities to check on this information.”
Officials will especially investigate a land concession company called Chang Ly to see if they are involved in illegally transporting timber, he said.
Cambodia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, largely due to illegal logging.
A report issued last year by the UK-based environmental rights group Global Witness found that government and military officials collude with businessmen to illegally cut and transport Cambodian timber to Vietnam and China.
While illegal logging continues, forest activists have faced harassment and jailing by authorities, and in some cases have even been killed while carrying out investigations into the trade.
Reported by Sok Ratha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.