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‘Emperor’ of loggers freed; four men held

FOUR more suspects have been arrested on suspicion that they set fire to two bridges in Battambang’s Samlot district in an attempt to throw authorities off the trail of an illegal logging ring, but another man believed to be involved in the same group was released after paying a fine for transporting illegal wood, officials said.

Tith Savoeun, 41, a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldier who officials said was so notorious for his involvement in illegal logging activity that locals called him “The Wood Emperor”, was released Tuesday night after paying a fine of US$1,500, said Hem Sovath, deputy chief of the Thailand-Cambodia Relations Office.

He had been caught Monday night driving with 4 cubic metres of illegal wood, Hem Sovath said, and was being held at the provincial Environment Department.

Battambang provincial prosecutor Sar Yos Thavrak blamed Environment Department officials for failing to file a report on the suspect, leaving him powerless to issue an arrest warrant.

But Sar Sivon, deputy director of the provincial Environment Department, said his office had never before been asked to request an arrest warrant in an illegal logging case.

New arrests
Three hours after Tith Savoeun was detained, police arrested a group of four illegal loggers who allegedly burned down two wooden bridges in Tatok commune, Samlot district – a move that officials described as an attempt to prevent the authorities from chasing them.

The four suspects are believed to have been behind the bridge-burning, said On Chri Sav Mondul, the provincial deputy military police chief.

They are Tith Savoeun’s wife, 33-year-old Taing Srey Pov, as well as Ven Sopheap, 23, Eav Ol, 48, and Peng Phearun, 25.

On Chri Sav Mondul said he planned to arrest two more suspects in connection with the case, adding that he was waiting on arrest warrants.

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