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Hun Sen fires forestry director

PRIME Minister Hun Sen announced Tuesday that Ty Sokun, director of the Forestry Administration, has been removed from his post for failing to successfully crack down on illegal logging.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), the premier said Ty Sokun had taken insufficiently swift action against logging offenders across the Kingdom.

“I think Ty Sokun has no more ability to resolve this issue. I’m beginning to despair ... [so] it is time to remove,” Hun Sen told an audience of several hundred government officials.

“If he is not removed, Ty Sokun would work until he died and still not resolve this problem. Ty Sokun, don’t feel disappointed – consider this a life lesson and try to work harder,” Hun Sen added.

Ty Sokun will be moved to the position of undersecretary of state at the MAFF, Hun Sen said, replaced as Forestry Administration director by his current deputy, Cheng Kimsun.

Ty Sokun said Tuesday that the chances for success in his former position had been limited, and that many illegal loggers have connections to rich men and high-ranking officials who threaten forestry officers.

“I am proud to have been given a new position by the prime minister, and I will make an effort to work harder to combat forest crime and illegal fishing and to support law enforcement,” he said.

Cheng Kimsun, the former deputy director of the Forestry Administration, said he was “surprised” by his promotion, and pledged to continue the
fight against illegal logging.

“My first job is to continue to combat illegal logging and find and arrest the perpetrators who are receiving bribes from the illegal loggers,” Cheng Kimsun said.

Cheng Kimsun will face the possibility of punishment and jail if he, too, performs inadequately, Hun Sen said Tuesday.

Ty Sokun was implicated in Family Trees, a 2007 report on the logging trade by the watchdog group Global Witness, which said that under his leadership, the Forestry Administration “played a key role in facilitating ... illegal logging and other criminal activities”.

“There is substantial evidence that [Minister of Agriculture] Chan Sarun and Ty Sokun have illegally sold 500 or more jobs in the Forest Administration,” the report stated, estimating that Ty Sokun had made hundreds of thousands of dollars from bribes paid to him.

Hang Chhaya, executive director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, said the sacking of Ty Sokun “comes as a bit of a surprise”, though he noted that it is of a piece with the government’s recent efforts to publicly crack down on illegal logging. Hun Sen issued a directive in January calling on government agencies to step up their efforts against the illicit timber trade, referring to its practitioners last month as “national traitors”.

“I think the prime minister is really waking up to this issue and realising he must tackle this problem in Cambodia,” Hang Chhaya said, though he added that Ty Sokun “should not be used as a scapegoat for the whole issue”.

“It’s systematic in the way these things operate,” Hang Chhaya said.

In his speech, Hun Sen warned that government officials who attempt to flee warrants for their arrest could face life imprisonment.

“You cannot hide or escape anymore,” Hun Sen said.

Ty Sokun said last week that since Hun Sen’s January directive, government officials had conducted more than 100 raids and collected more than 3,000 cubic metres of timber. He said that prosecutions are pending against more than 100 government officials and businessmen involved in the illegal logging trade, though military police spokesman Kheng Tito said Tuesday that only 14 people had been arrested as a result of the crackdown as of the end of March.

Three forestry officials were arrested in Pursat province last week for allegedly transporting lumber illegally into Koh Kong province, and four forestry officials in Kampong Cham province were questioned last Thursday in connection with a similar case.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA AND JAMES O’TOOLE

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