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Court detains NGO director

THE head of a conservation NGO in Kampong Speu province who has been accused of illegal logging and extortion was detained by the provincial court yesterday after a two-hour questioning session, his lawyer said.

Chea Hean, director of the Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organisation, was summoned in response to a complaint filed by Chhun Chhea Heng, the head of the Oral Mountain Animal Refuge in Oral district.

In total, nine members of the NGO have received summonses, and one was questioned on Monday before being released.

Ke Chamroeun, Chea Hean’s lawyer, said yesterday’s questioning session had been carried out by Judge Iv Borin, who could not be reached for comment. Chhun Chea Heng also could not be reached.

Chhun Chea Heng is one of 241 officials accused by Chea Hean of turning a blind eye to illegal logging in Kampong Speu. All 241 officials were named in a complaint filed by Chea Hean to the government’s newly established Anticorruption Unit on August 30.

Ke Chamroeun said he was surprised that his client had been detained, and called the court’s action unfair.

“This detention is unjust for my client, because the court did not take into account my client’s explanation,” he said after the questioning session. “They only accepted the answers from the police and from the Oral Mountain Animal Refuge director.”

He said the detention had come as a surprise because the questioning had been conducted in a civil manner.

“As I listened to the points the parties raised, it seemed that my client would be acquitted, but then he quickly decided at the end of the session that he would detain my client,” he said.

Ek Sothea, provincial coordinator for the rights group Licadho, said yesterday that there was longstanding enmity between Chea Hean and Chhun Chhea Heng. Chea Hean had previously filed three complaints accusing Chhun Chhea Heng of illegal logging – one in 2007, one in 2008 and one in 2009.

In addition to the August 30 ACU complaint, Chea Hean recently filed a complaint to the Appeal Court asking that Chhun Chhea Heng and six other officials be sentenced to 22 years in prison and fined 200 million riels (US$47,393) for their involvement in illegal logging.

Chea Hean said earlier this month that he had taken that complaint to the Appeal Court after his provincial court complaints drew no response.

The Kampong Speu provincial court summons calling Chea Hean to the court indicated that Chhun Chhea Heng had accused him of illegal logging in 2008.

“This case carries a lot of rancour, and at last the complaint from the animal refuge director has been processed by the court,” Ek Sothea said.

Om Yentieng, the head of the ACU, could not be reached yesterday to answer questions about the status of Chea Hean’s complaint to the body.

Muth Dara, the prosecutor handling the case, could not be reached for comment.

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