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Thais arrest 38 Cambodians on charges of illegal logging

A combined task force of Thai soldiers and national park officials yesterday arrested 38 Cambodian villagers who encroached on the Panom Dong Rak Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand’s Si Sa Ket province, which borders Oddar Meanchey province.

Thai National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department chief Damrong Pidech said it was the largest arrest of Cambodians engaging in the illegal logging of rare and highly valuable rosewood trees.

“This is wonderful cooperation that has resulted in a great success. We are now investigating whether it involved any officials or timber businessman,” Damrong said.

The number of trees illegally felled was not known as the Cambodians had just gone to the forest to fetch pieces of rosewood left behind, Damrong said.

The trunks of the trees had already been taken away.

Protection of the trees is high on his department’s agenda, he said. In the past, the department had mobilised close to 1,000 national park officials nationwide to protect the trees’ habitats, as illegal felling was rampant.

The department has asked the cabinet for 200 million baht, or about US$6,525,000, to protect the rare species.

But it was not put before the cabinet, as the details needed to be checked.

Later, the department revised the figure to 140 million baht, roughly US$4,565,000, but Thai Natural Resources and Environment Minister Preecha Rengsomboonsuk has stayed silent on the issue.

“Please go ask the minister why he is still delaying the forwarding of our request to the cabinet,” Damrong said.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said last night that the Cambodian consul general in Thailand’s Sakeo province had received information about the 38 villagers and was contacting Thai authorities, but could not comment further.

Touch Ra, chief of border relations at Chhoam Sror Ngam border checkpoint in Oddar Meanchey province, said he had not received any information regarding the arrest of any Cambodians from Thai authorities, adding that he would investigate.

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