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In Ratanakkiri, logging crackdown expanding

A second person has been charged by Ratanakkiri Provincial Court for illegal logging in the vicinity of the Ou’Sinlair Waterfall ecotourism area, court officials said yesterday, and two local officials have reportedly skipped town to escape scrutiny, according to rights group Adhoc.

Court chief Suos Lar said the court had placed Hin Sitha, 42, the chief of staff for a local rubber plantation, into pre-trial detention this week after an investigation found that he was involved in logging the protected area.

“He cleared three hectares in one location,” Lar said.

Lar maintained that Sitha had acted independently of his employer, noting the company’s machinery remained on the other side of a canal from the site of the alleged logging.

Last week, the court charged Lumphat district forestry department head Mueng Bunthin for colluding to clear the forest around Ou’Sinlair.

“I do not know how many people will be charged next, but I just know that there are a lot, and that it depends on court procedure,” said Phan Phoeun, the deputy chief of the provincial Forestry Administration who sent the case to court.

Lumphat District Governor Kong Srun and Kaleng commune police chief Nat Bunna have fled following the arrests, Adhoc provincial coordinator Chhay Thy said yesterday. Srun had asked the court to delay a summons to appear, but was denied, he added.

Srun, however, maintained yesterday that he had come to Phnom Penh for a meeting, and that he had asked for time off work because he was not feeling well.

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