Government rangers, paid to protect the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary, allow loggers to process and transport illegally felled timber in exchange for bribes, an NGO alleged yesterday after conducting an undercover operation in the protected forest.
The claims – which were denied by an official from the sanctuary, overseen by the Ministry of Environment – were levelled by director of the Natural Resources and Wildlife Preservation Organization (NRWPO) Chea Hean, who also alleged loggers were tipped-off prior to a recent raid on the forest, which spans Kampong Speu and Pursat provinces.
Hean said eight members of his team visited the site on Tuesday disguised as timber buyers and discovered seven sawmills and more than 10 cubic metres of high grade luxury timber, which he said was logged from inside the sanctuary, cut into planks and destined for sale in Vietnam.
He said six men operating the saws, set up in separate locations about 300 to 400 metres apart, offered to sell timber for $200 direct from the forest, or $250 if they required transport, but wouldn’t go any lower because of overheads imposed by sanctuary officials.
“A logger told me that he paid $300 monthly to the sanctuary and environment officials for one band saw machine,” Hean said.
“I pretended to bargain over the timber price, but they said they could not go lower because the environment officials take an amount of money from them.”
Loggers also said they paid cash to officials at about 10 checkpoints set up along their transport route, Heang added.
However, Sing Bunhen, deputy director of the sanctuary, vehemently denied the allegations.
“I do not know about it. There is no [money payment], definitely no, the loggers did it in secret. There is no involvement with the authorities,” Bunhen said before hanging up.
Over the past two weeks, teams led by the Environment Ministry’s General Department of Natural Administration have seized two makeshift trucks, two motorbikes, components of three band saw machines and an unspecified amount of luxury wood at three of the sawmill sites visited by NRWPO, according to a ministry report obtained by the Post.
Heang said the loggers noted the crackdown had made their trade tougher but alleged that officials had tipped off loggers prior to the recent raids, meaning only broken machines and old timber were recovered.
Meanwhile, in a separate logging case, Stung Treng provincial border and military police officers on Tuesday seized a tractor and two chainsaws from two Laotian men logging about 500 metres inside Cambodia’s border.
The pair spotted officers and fled, said My Bun Born, border commander of Brigade 101.