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Four charged over forest clearing

Four of six men arrested on Thursday for allegedly clearing more than three hectares of protected forest within Mondulkiri’s Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area were charged on Saturday, court officials and rights monitors said yesterday.

Sou Sovichea, provincial deputy prosecutor, confirmed yesterday that the four suspects charged ranged between the ages of 30 and 40, while the other two were 14.

“We charged four men with clearing the forest illegally and released [two of the six] because they were under age,” Sovichea said.

Those charged, from Kampong Cham, Kampong Thom, Kratie and Prey Veng provinces, are being held in pre-trial detention at the provincial prison.

Authorities operating on a tip-off sighted more than 10 people clearing the protected area, according to Kong Puthira, deputy chief of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and a law enforcement team leader for Wildlife Conservation Society.

“They confessed that a man named Hear employed them to clear to forest. We are searching for Mr Hear now,” Puthira said, adding that the four suspects alleged their employer was paying them each $87.50 per hectare cleared.

Sok Ratha, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, commended action taken against forest offences but added that poor people frequently bore the brunt of crackdowns.

“The rich and powerful that are [often] behind the forest offences are never arrested so we are calling on authorities to take action against them as well,” Ratha said.

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