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Monks upset at release of two suspects

CONSERVATIONIST monks in Oddar Meanchey province are threatening to file a complaint against forestry officials if they aren’t offered a satisfactory explanation as to why authorities released a group of alleged illegal loggers on the same day they were arrested.

Bun Saluth, the head of the Rukhavorn Monks Community Forest in Anlong Veng district, said the clergymen participated in the arrest of five people last Friday.

“They were cutting trees in a conservation forest. We confiscated two chainsaws and two small tractors,” he said yesterday.

But the monks are upset that the suspected illegal loggers were released later in the day.

“We sent all of them to forestry officials, but they were released with a fine,” Bun Saluth said. “We disagree, and we will protest the release with the relevant officials because we are all working hard to stop deforestation.”

Bo Vannak, the chief of the Anlong Veng Forestry Administration, acknowledged that authorities released two people accused of illegal logging along with their equipment. But he said they posed no flight risk.

“I will call them to see me when I need to question them,” he said, before suggesting the monks were being overzealous.

“They are monks, but they always demand people to be imprisoned and punished,” he said. “Monks should have mercy and forgiveness and educate people to do good things.”

District Governor Yim Phanna said there had been a long history of disputes between locals and the Rukhavorn community.

The monks, he said, have sought to expand their community to conserve wildlife and forest areas. But their ambition has also angered villagers who live in the area.

“It is very complicated, and it is hard to solve the problem because people have lived and farmed on the land for a long time, yet the [monk] community is trying to expand its control of the forest land,” Yim Phanna said.

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