Fifteen Cambodians caught and detained for illegally logging luxury timber in Laos were released on Wednesday after their families each paid more than $450 for their freedom, but six men who could not pay the fine remained in custody, a Cambodian official said yesterday.
Si Nuon, Siem Pang district governor in Stung Treng province, said Cambodian officials had negotiated the release of the 15 men, but had not contributed to paying their fines.
“The fine is the responsibility of the families, not the authority,” Si Nuon said.
“We tried hard to discuss this with the Lao authorities until they agreed to fine and release the 15.”
Laos border soldiers arrested 19 of the men on December 15 and two more on Monday of this week for illegal logging in Champasak province.
Si Nuon dismissed suggestions that the two men arrested this week had not been trying to log, but had been foraging for food that grows in the forest.
The other six men remained in custody because their families could not be contacted and the men could not afford to pay the fine alone, he said.
“We have not identified their families yet, so we haven’t been able to help them.”
Villagers who went into the forest to log were often desperate for money and were easy targets for luxury-timber middlemen, Si Nuon said.
“It is very hard for the authority to prevent our villagers going into the forest [to log], because the Siem Pang border with Laos is about 200km long.”
Cambodian border police arrested 11 Laotian men logging about two kilomet-res inside Cambodian territory, in Siem Pang district’s Prek Meas commune, last Wednesday.
Siem Pang district police chief Var Sophan said Laos authorities and the arrested men’s families had contacted them about their release.
“We are considering how to deal with the problem and whether to fine them as they fine our people or by other means,” Var Sophan said.
Ho Sam Ol, provincial monitor for the human-rights group Adhoc, said that in the past, Laos had released Cambodians who had been caught logging illegally, but had not detained them.