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Wildlife smugglers freed after ‘warning’

KAMPONG Cham provincial police briefly arrested five alleged wildlife smugglers yesterday, after finding them in possession of more than 200 kilograms of protected mammalian and reptile species, officials said.

Provincial police chief Nuon Saminn said the five men were detained after their car was stopped in Suong district and they were found in possession of protected tortoises, porcupines, civets and snakes.

He said police released the men because it was clear they were merely middle men in a larger smuggling operation.

“They were the victims, and our local officials educated them about wildlife offences before their release,” he said.

He said police had forced the men to sign contracts promising not to commit similar offences and then released the animals into the forest.

The ongoing crackdown against animal smugglers hadfailed to stop the rise in the illegal trade because smugglers were hauling their cargo in luxury cars that police were afraid to pull over, local economic police chief Hong Nak said yesterday.

“It is difficult for us to search for wildlife trafficking in luxury cars,” he said.

The 2002 Forestry Law prohibits the trade in protected species and carries punishments of up to 10 years in prison and as much as 100 million riels (US$23,518) in fines.

Tim Sipha, director of the Legislation and Law Enforcement Department at the Ministry of Agriculture, said the law had been applied 44 times so far in 2010.

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