By The Nation
The centre’s Phayak Prai taskforce last Saturday teamed up with Thap Lan National Park rangers to track illegal-logging moves by the gang’s members at the Sakaerat Environmental Research Station in Nakhon Ratchasima province, where two age-old Phayung trees had been cut down and sawed into pieces, pending transportation.
The park’s Central Network Anti-Poaching System (NCAPS) cameras were able to capture the gang returning to the site to transport the logs.
The officials then showed up to make arrests, before some gang members fired at the officials and damaged their vehicles with gunshots.
Three people were arrested at the scene, and at least two vehicles were seized as a result.
Seventeen other gang members, some of them Vietnamese, have arrest warrants issued against them.
The centre on Tuesday directed the forces, which included the Phayak Prai task force, officers from the Royal Thai Police and the natural resources and crime suppression division, and the military from the Internal Security Operations Command, to expand the investigation following the seizure of the vehicles.
They learned that one of the cars had a fake licence plate, whereupon the officials went to check a car rental tent, from which one of the vehicles had reportedly been bought.
They also found that the tent was operating in violation of the Consumer Protection Act.
The tent’s owner, however, insisted he had no idea of the car in question having been used in such illegal activity, and simply said it would probably be one that had been stolen from his tent a few years ago.
Athapol Charoenshunsa, the centre’s chief and deputy chief of the Royal Forestry Department, said that based on the centre’s initial investigation, the criminal ring was probably the largest illegal Phayung logging gang in the country.
It is transnational, with several known criminals involved, he added.
The Forest Protecting Operation Centre is now expanding the investigation in a bid to further penetrate the gang and break its cycle of criminal activity.
The fallen Phayung trees were found to be suitable for tissue-breeding as they were aged and giant, and rare in the pristine environment, Phayak Prai chief Cheewapap Cheewatham said yesterday.
Siamese rosewood has been extensively cut down from Thai forests in recent years, from the Northeast to the eastern forests of the World Heritage Site of Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, of which Thap Lan National Park is a part.
The surge in demand is partly driven by large-scale consumption of the wood in countries like China, where it is used for household furniture and decoration, as many people believe it is a wood that brings good luck and prosperity.
In recent years, foreign nationals have been found to be involved in illegal logging activities, prompting officials to step up their suppression efforts with the help of technology such as the NCAPS.