Two Mondulkiri Forestry Officers Provisionally Detained

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Members of an anti-forestry crimes task force inspect illegal timber in Mondulkiri province’s Koh Nhek district on July 16, 2019. (National Military Police)

Two Forestry Administration officers were placed in provisional detention on Thursday morning amid an ongoing crackdown on illegal logging in Mondulkiri province.

Provincial Forestry Administration deputy chief Saro Ratana and Royor Forestry Administration head Hun Vanne were charged with allowing illegal forest exploitation after being questioned at the provincial court this week, said Met Pros, the court’s administrative chief.

The crime, listed under the Forestry Law, carries a penalty of one to five years in jail and a fine of 10 million to 100 million riel (about $2,500 to $25,000).

Pros added that Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary director Han Sokhorn was charged with illegally collecting forest products and released on bail.

The court had issues summonses to several other officials, Pros said, but he declined to provide further details.

“This case has involved a lot of people,” he said. “I don’t know how many people because the summonses have not gone through me. They were sent to the provincial police.”

Amid a crackdown on timber trafficking declared in early July, nine people have been arrested, including the three provincial officials, oknha Soeng Sam Ol and two associates, and three Chinese workers from among five companies under investigation.

Eng Hy, spokesman for the National Anti-Deforestation Committee, said the investigation into the companies was still ongoing.

Pen Bonnar, an investigator at rights group Adhoc, cautioned that timber traffickers could easily resurface if the crackdown proved short-lived.

Illegal logging in the area appeared to have quieted down for now, but local authorities — rather than the national task force — needed to take greater responsibility for policing forestry crimes, Bonnar said.

“We think there is no need for the national committee to go in and conduct a crackdown just for some time,” he said. “We have provincial boards that are members of the national committee. They could do the work. They have police officers.”

On July 18, Sao Sokha, president of the national committee, said he would take action against anyone involved in timber trafficking, regardless of whether they were military police officers or government officials.

Sokha declared he would stop at nothing, saying he was even ready to be decapitated if it meant continuing the fight against forestry crimes.

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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