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Villagers implicate officials in logging

Three environment officials in Mondulkiri province are being sued by ethnic minority villagers for allegedly using a permit to build two ranger stations as a pretence to illegally log more than 4,000 cubic metres of luxury wood.

The officials have not denied that they logged a variety of protected hardwood, locally called koki, to build the two stations since a letter was issued by Phnom Nam Lear Wildlife Sanctuary director Roth Sovan in August last year.

But they said the letter, which was obtained yesterday and included a table indicating that more than 4,000 cubic metres of the wood would be needed for the buildings, should have only granted permission for 40 cubic metres.

As well as Sovan, the villagers are also suing the Pech Chreada District Governor Nuon Saron and the Busraa commune chief, Yeut Sarin. The ethnic minority Phnong villagers, led by representative Meul Chev, allege that last week a group of loggers were arrested, including men working for the trio who produced the letter signed by Sovan.

Environment officials later released the loggers without charge, Chev said.

“They logged more than 4,000 cubic metres, but the station has not been built yet,” he added.

Chhit Sophal, provincial Environment Department director, said that the villagers were “confused” and the letter only granted permission for 40 cubic metres, which he had himself authorised.

Saron burst into laughter when asked about the case yesterday. “The authorities have not been involved in crime or the release of the offenders,” he said.

Sovan and Sarin could not be reached.

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