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Logging raids net no charges in PVihear

MORE than 20 raids stemming from a crackdown on illegal logging this year have led to zero prosecutions thus far in Preah Vihear province, the director of the provincial court said Tuesday.

Sao Savuth added, however, that court officials have no plans to follow the lead of their counterparts in Ratanakkiri province, who on Monday said they would soon ask Forestry Department officials why complaints had not been filed in connection with roughly 45 raids carried out there.

In January, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered a crackdown on illegal logging that has led to a spate of raids and confiscations in provinces across the country, though observers have criticised the lack of related prosecutions.

Sao Savuth said Tuesday that investigations connected with raids in his province were ongoing, though he declined to provide a specific number.
“Almost all of the cases sent to court contained only evidence,” he said. “No illegal wood sellers or government and forestry officials have been arrested.”

Meanwhile, Sok Leang, deputy director of the Siem Reap provincial court, said he knew of only five illegal logging raids conducted in that province this year.

He said these had led to some investigations of officials and wood vendors, and that summonses for “relevant people” had been issued, but declined to elaborate further.

“We have summoned relevant people and will keep on interrogating them in connection with forestry crimes,” he said.

Im Sophan, chief prosecutor at the provincial court in Mondulkiri, declined to comment at all on whether arrests or prosecutions had been carried out in connection with illegal logging raids, describing the issue as an “internal affair” of the court.

Several observers on Tuesday expressed concern that the crackdown on illegal logging would have little lasting effect if perpetrators were not held accountable for flouting the law.

Tep Bunnarith, executive director of the Culture and Environment Preservation Association, said Tuesday that he believes not enough action has been taken by law enforcement to target individuals.

“The actions taken are not enough, unless the government dares to arrest both officials and wood sellers,” he said. “The government should have a monitoring system and information-sharing system for the public and observers to see how much the [crackdown] is being enforced.”

He added that confiscated wood should not be sold or put up for auction, but instead donated to “local communities”.

“Any logs confiscated should be provided to local communities for housing or school construction, or other infrastructure. If they are sold, the money should be used for social funding or community development programs,” he said.

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said he was not optimistic that prosecutions would occur. “It is impunity,” he said. “They are never brought to justice.”

But Bunra Seng, country director of Conservation International, said the crackdown had been somewhat effective even in the absence of prosecutions.

“Especially in my area, Koh Kong, it’s very quiet,” he said. “Compared to 2009, it is very quiet. I want the crackdown to continue.”

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