Local officials have been implicated in facilitating the transport of thousands of wooden posts used for growing pepper plants made of illegally logged timber from the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary in Battambang, according to community observers.
This trade has picked back up in the past two weeks after a period of dormancy, according to community members living in Samlot district’s Kampong Lpov commune.
“As the Khmer New Year approaches, the hauling of posts becomes very active,” said a community member who asked to be identified only as Nim. “Every night, there are more than 10 tractors and a few trucks.”
A truck can carry up to 500 posts, and truck drivers pay $100 bribes to environmental officials at the commune outpost while tractor drivers pay $20, Nim said.
Timber traders buy the posts at 9,000 riel (about $2.25) apiece from local loggers and sell them at $4.25, according to community members.
The loggers are local villagers, according to another community member speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The last few nights, the hauling dramatically increased,” he said.
Mun Samut, the sanctuary director, admitted some villagers log the timber for pepper posts. But Chhay Naret, the local Forestry Administration director, denied the accusation that his officials took bribes, and insisted “there is no illegal pepper post hauling”.
In Saorith, the district governor of Samlot, maintained villagers only logged old and dead trees and didn’t sell them.
“We had a meeting about this and we need to turn a blind eye to it because it is locally used,” said Saorith.