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Lethal force to be used against illegal loggers

T HE military will shoot and bomb boats and trucks carrying illegal log exports if their operators do not surrender when ordered, the government says.

The use of force to uphold Cambodia's timber export ban, which came into force on April 30, has been authorized by government ministers.

"We cannot use bare hands to catch them," Interior Minister You Hockry said of the illegal loggers.

Some 34 boats, barges and tugs were confiscated by military forces - using two helicopter gunships - in a two-day operation in Kompong Som and Koh Kong provinces in early June.

None of the vessels are believed to have been fired upon.

Ministry of Agriculture spokesman Khem Chenda said guns and ammunition were confiscated from some of the boat crews, along with lumber they were transporting.

The government had not yet decided what to do with the seized timber, which loggers maintained had been cut before the April 30 ban and should therefore be allowed to be used in Cambodia.

The government believed the timber was being illegally exported when confiscated, Khem Chenda said. He would not identify the logging firms involved.

The helicopters were manned by government staff under the control of a committee of police, defense, agriculture, transport and customs officials charged with enforcing the export ban nationwide.

Some 600 extra soldiers and police have also been sent to monitor Cambodia's borders for timber exports.

The Thai-Cambodian border is likely to be the hardest to control, but Khem Chenda said the government was committed to stopping the timber trade there.

Agriculture Minister Tao Seng Hour will discuss Thai cooperation when he visits there this month.

Meanwhile, Chenda said there had been few reports of illegal log exports to Laos and Vietnam. Their governments seemed to be taking action to prevent such trade from Cambodia.

But authorities still faced many difficulties in policing Cambodia's coastline and borders, Chenda said, particularly as logs were increasingly being transported at night.

Government attempts to enforce the ban have been controversial, with allegations that corrupt officials are allowing some exports to continue.

In May, Koh Kong deputy governor Van Kirirot criticized the government decision to send Phnom Penh officials to monitor logging in the provinces. He said the move undermined the authority of provincial police, and allowed corrupt "city" officials to do deals with loggers.

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