Candlelight Party Member Arrested for Alleged Forest Clearing 

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A Candlelight Party billboard in Phnom Penh’s Prek Liep commune on April 25, 2022. (Phin Rathana/VOD)
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A Candlelight Party member and former CNRP commune chief was arrested in Kampong Speu’s Baset district for allegedly clearing community forest land.

Provincial governor Vei Samnang told VOD on Friday that Ben Bunthin, an opposition party member, had already been sent to court, as he was “directly involved” in clearing a community forest.

“He encroached and grabbed forest land and cleared forest community land,” he said without mentioning the name of the community forest. “I have handled it as I am the one who created the community [area]. … He came to clear [trees].”

Bunthin was elected chief of Kampong Speu’s Kat Phlok commune for the former opposition CNRP in 2017, but lost his position when the party was dissolved. 

Samnang claimed the arrest had nothing to do with politics, and he would arrest a CPP official who committed the same crime.

“The court’s warrant has summoned him four times to answer [for the alleged crimes] … but he did not show up so we need to implement the law,” he said. “When he has done wrong, if we do not enforce [the law] what else could we do?”

Khuth Phanna, the Kat Phlok commune police chief, said district and provincial authorities had made the arrest but his jurisdiction was not involved. 

“I just know that it was the leader’s decision, and I do not know what it is,” he said. “If they told us, they would be afraid that it would be leaked.”

The opposition member hadn’t caused any trouble for the community, Phanna added. 

“With the people, he had no problems. … We do not know whether he was involved in anything [suspicious], but when they came to arrest him, there must have been a reason. When they came to arrest him, the people who live around there reported it to us.”

Sam Sak, deputy provincial police chief, confirmed the arrest but referred questions to another deputy provincial police chief, Nhem Sao, who could not be reached. 

Baset district police Chon Sophit said that he was busy and would call back later.

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