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Seized wood auctioned off

THE Forestry Administration cantonment in Ratanakkiri province has begun auctioning wood seized earlier this year as part of the government’s crackdown on illegal logging, a court official said yesterday.

Provincial court director Lu Susambath said that more than 600 cubic meters of wood had already been sold by the state, with the proceeds going to government coffers.

“More than 600 cubic metres of wood has been confiscated, and it has all been recently sent back to the Forestry Administration cantonment for auctioning to get money for the state budget,” he said.

He said last month that a request from forestry officials to auction off the wood would not be granted until the court received an explanation as to why no arrests or prosecutions had resulted from any of the roughly 45 illegal logging raids carried out in the province.

However, he said yesterday that no one had faced criminal charges in Ratanakkiri as part of the well-publicised crackdown, announced by Prime Minister Hun Sen in January.

“Not one businessman or forestry official has been prosecuted,” he said. “Forestry officials may be involved in illegal logging with businessmen, but there has been no evidence to press charges against them.”

Elsewhere, some officials arrested and held in pretrial detention after raids have been released despite the fact that they were still under investigation. On June 24, four Koh Kong forestry officials were freed after being charged in April for involvement in an illegal logging ring.

Pen Bonnar, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said the release of the Koh Kong officials could weaken early momentum Hun Sen was able to build around the illegal logging issue.

“Samdech [Hun Sen] used to warn his officials that no matter how big and powerful they are, they would be arrested and prosecuted if they get involved in illegal logging,” he said. “But with lower officials seeking interventions, that message loses its meaning.”

Koh Kong provincial court officials declined to comment yesterday.

In Ratanakkiri, Pen Bonnar said, illegal logging seems to have picked up again. “Now you can see wood being carried on many motorbikes throughout the province. What you hardly ever see, is a forestry official crack down on them.”

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