The recently formed anti-illegal logging committee has issued 10 warrants against alleged illegal timber traders since it began its crackdown in January, officials have confirmed, although the details of those accused and the charges they face remain under wraps.
The committee’s spokesperson Eng Hy said yesterday that since the group began scouring Cambodia’s eastern provinces in January, the Tbong Khmum and Mondulkiri provincial courts have issued 10 warrants for the arrest of people connected to illegal logging, but he declined to go into detail on the cases.
“The expert committee has prepared some lawsuits in some provinces in which the crackdown operation has been launched, and some of those have reached the prosecutor already,” he said, adding that some suspects were company managers, but declining to go into further details.
Hy said that the committee was still assessing the legal status of tens of thousands of cubic metres of seized wood and there would be more warrants to follow. Although he added that authorities had lacked the equipment to control forest fires that they say had made their way onto several economic land concessions and destroyed potential evidence.
Heang Sopheak, a prosecutor at the Tbong Khmum Provincial Court, confirmed that warrants had been issued, but declined to provide any details, instead referring questions back to the illegal logging committee.
Rights groups and community forest representatives have welcomed the efforts of anti-illegal logging committee since it was established at the behest of Prime Minister Hun Sen on January 14, but have repeatedly called for transparency in its activities.
Em Sopheak, a program officer for the Community Legal Education Center, reiterated that stance yesterday, saying that it was positive to hear that warrants had been issued by the committee, but questioning the timeliness of the charges and the lack of detail in their investigations.
“It is just one step that the committee has filed a complaint to the court, but we are afraid that those suspects will be called to testify, but there will be no real punishment for them,” he said.
Sok Ratha, Mondulkiri provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that authorities had not released all the information they could have relating to the raids.
“Maybe the committee needs [more time] to investigate more people the behind the timber traders,” he said, when asked about the limited release of information.
In a separate case in Stung Treng last week, villagers set alight 30 planks of wood they were carrying on the back of their motorbikes after being stopped by forestry officials.
According to Chhuok Komal, Stung Treng town police chief, forestry officials stopped two villagers on motorbikes carrying the wood and dumped the load on the side of the road.
When the authorities left to get a vehicle to transport the haul, the villagers doused the planks in gasoline and set it on fire, before fleeing the scene, he said.
“The officers arrested them to educate them, so that they stop the illegal transport [of wood], but they burned it themselves,” Komal said.
Meanwhile, forestry officials have been accused of failing to intercept two trucks loaded with over 10 cubic metres of protected timber from Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary after being alerted to their presence by a forestry NGO in Kampong Speu on Saturday night.
Chea Hean, director of the Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organization, said his NGO had been tracking the wood for some time, and when the tucks left on Saturday he alerted both the provincial and national environmental authorities, who said that they would intervene.
However, Hean said he followed the trucks to Takeo province on their way to Vietnam through multiple checkpoints and authorities failed to act.
Neither provincial nor national environmental authorities could be reached for comment yesterday, while Oral Wildlife Sanctuary deputy director Soeng Bunhen hung up on a reporter.