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Govt officials arrested in logging bust

FORESTRY officials in Pursat province have been arrested after being accused of involvement in illegal logging, authorities said, in what appears to be a continuation of a recent effort to crack down on the illicit practice.

The three officials were arrested last week on suspicion of being involved in the transportation of logs into Koh Kong province from neighbouring Pursat, a provincial government official in Koh Kong told the Post.

The official, who asked not to be named because he is not permitted to speak to the media, said authorities arrested the head of a district Forestry Administration office and an associate Saturday, as well as another official last Monday.

Military police spokesman Kheng Kito would only confirm that two Pursat forestry officials had been arrested for alleged involvement in illegal logging.

Contacted by the Post on Sunday, Koh Kong provincial court prosecutor Top Chhun Heng, who is handling the case, declined to comment.

The arrests come after Prime Minister Hun Sen warned military commanders in January that he would no longer tolerate illegal logging committed by high-ranking officials.

Since then, authorities have publicised seizures of illegal wood throughout the Kingdom.

Last Thursday, four forestry officials in Kampong Cham province were questioned by the provincial court after they were accused of illegal logging as well, according to Vong Sam Ath, a Memot district council member.

Officials prosecuted in previous crackdowns have not always been punished.

In 2006, former Ratanakkiri provincial governor Kham Khoeun was sentenced to 17 years in prison after being convicted of involvement in an illegal logging ring, but officials have said they believe he is currently living in Laos.

And though six other officials were convicted in the same case, only one is behind bars, according to Adhoc.

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