The commander of the 807th Border Guard Battalion, Colonel Long Samnang, dismissed reports by local newspapers that allege he allowed subordinates to conspire with charcoal exporters to sell charcoal to Thailand on a daily basis.

Several local media outlets recently reported that hundreds of tonnes of charcoal a week were exported to Thailand through a corridor between border poles Number 28-29 in Tbeng Temple, Banteay Chhmar commune of Banteay Meanchey Province’s Thma Puok district.

The reports claimed the operation ran smoothly through the illegal corridor due to border guards accepting 2,000 riel ($0.50) per bag of charcoal to allow its passage. They said there are dozens of bags per tractor or trailer making the crossing, and that no less than 10 were crossing daily.

“If this activity continues unchecked, Cambodia’s forests will be devastated due to charcoal production for illegal export,” claimed one report.

However, Samnang told The Post that a few days ago there was a group of people from Oddar Meanchey who transported charcoal by trucks through Banteay Meanchey province’s Banteay Chhmar commune for sale in Thailand. They passed through the corridor between border poles 28 and 29 in Tbeng temple, but there was not a large amount of charcoal.

“It was not even close to the hundreds of tonnes or hundreds of thousands of bags that some media outlets are claiming,” Samnang said. “More importantly, none of the border guards accepted money from any of the charcoal traders.”

Samnang said he sent officials to investigate the allegations as soon as they were published. After questioning the officers working the location, it was clear that no cabal of charcoal traders was operating there, and none of his officers were involved in any conspiracy.

“It is not a large commercial group of traders, but residents of Banteay Ampil district’s Kokmon village, who transported the charcoal. They were transporting three trucks of charcoal and made a stop at Tbeng temple in Banteay Chhmar commune – before selling the charcoal to Thai people in a border village of Buriram province province’s Lahan Sai district,” he said.

He reminded all of his subordinates along the Thai border to block the traffic of all kinds of goods through the corridor and to educate the public about the need to bring all goods to regional or international border checkpoints to avoid these kinds of accusations.

A charcoal trader who identified herself only as Sinuon in Thma Puok district’s Kouk Romiet commune told The Post that since the Covid-19 outbreak, all border crossings have been closed, so she has stopped purchasing charcoal from the people who run the kilns that produce it.

“I used to export a few tonnes of charcoal at a time through the Boeung Trakoun border crossing to sell in Thailand, but as it’s not reopened, I stopped this business because I did not have enough capital to sustain myself through the border closures,” she said.

Sinuon said she previously purchased charcoal at a cost of 500 to 600 riel per kilogramme, and could sell the same weight to Thais for between 1,000 and 1,300 riel.