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More Evidence of Illegal Logging Goes Up in Flames

May Titthara / Khmer Times Share:
A police official looks on as a fire destroys evidence of illegal logging at a Forestry Administration office in Pursat province’s Phnom Kravanh district. Supplied

Another fire which destroyed evidence seized during investigations into illegal logging has raised eyebrows about the timing of such blazes, which have followed a recent crackdown on illegal logging.
The latest fire occurred on Sunday in Pursat province in a compound adjacent to a district Forestry Administration office.
Timber and 27 vehicles that had been seized by forestry officials as evidence of illegal logging went up in flames at the administration office in Prek 1 village, Samraung commune, Phnom Kravanh district.
No one was injured in the blaze, said Kheng Tito, commander of the provincial military police.
District military police chief Chan Sokha said a lack of water made it impossible to put out the fire.
“If there was water nearby, the fire could have been extinguished,” Mr. Tito said, adding that there were no fire trucks in the area.
He told Khmer Times he doubted that the fire was caused by arson, saying it had spread from a forest nearby.
Phoung Sothia, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, called for an investigation.
“After the National Anti-Deforestation Committee was set up, we’ve seen lots of fires springing up, especially on the land of companies that have stocks of timber,” Mr. Sothia said.
“Before [the committee was set up], we never heard about such fires on company land or in the [compounds of] Forestry Administration [offices],” he said.
“In this case, more investigation should be carried out.”
Mr. Sokha said the fire spread from an adjacent forest into the compound at 4:20 pm and that forestry officials were left helpless due to the size of the blaze.
Adhoc’s Mr. Sothia said that although it was common for people to burn down trees to clear land for farming in the district, they generally shied away from trees within the site of the Forestry Administration office.
He said it was highly unlikely such a fire could spread from the forest into the compound of the office.
Officials said the timber and vehicles that went up in flames were seized as evidence that would be used to compile complaints against people suspected of illegal logging and other forest crimes.
Sunday’s destruction of evidence follows another blaze two weeks ago in Mondulkiri province. Hundreds of cubic meters of timber were destroyed by fires at an economic land concession (ELC) held by Uni-Green Company. Like Sunday’s fire in Pursat, it was blamed on flames leaping from a nearby forest into a compound.  That fire occurred while officials from the National Anti-Deforestation Committee were visiting the ELC to determine whether the timber stored on it had been cut legally.  
Shortly after the committee was set up in January, timber at an ELC in Kratie province also went up in flames.
ELCs are frequently blamed for the rapid deforestation taking place in Cambodia, with conservationists saying many ELCs are mere fronts for illegal logging, while the owners of other ELCs log outside their legal boundaries.

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