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Charges dropped against ‘forest clearance’ officials

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The charges against two environment officials for clearing forest land in a protected sanctuary have been dropped. Photo supplied

Charges dropped against ‘forest clearance’ officials

A former investigating judge at Kampong Speu provincial court has dropped charges against two senior environment officials who had been sued for “malicious denunciation, forest clearing and land grabbing for private ownership”. The case dates back to 2010.

Toung Putheara dropped the charges against Khorn Sokhun, director of the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary, and Chhun Chhie Heng, office head at the Kampong Speu provincial environment department, on October 22, just days before he was transferred to the Kampong Cham provincial court in a nationwide reshuffle.

Chea Hean, director of the NGO Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organisation, filed the lawsuit against the two officials in 2013 after serving three years in prison.

Hean said the legal tussle started in 2010 when he threatened legal action against the duo while trying to stop them from clearing around 100ha of forest land in the protected sanctuary.

Hean alleged that instead of heeding his warning, the two environment officials “faked” a document stating he illegally owned the 100ha lot and sent him to court.

“They forged documents accusing me of [illegally] owning 100ha. The land actually belonged to Chhun Chhie Heng, Khorn Sokhun, some other rangers and a couple of villagers."

“I will appeal the decision. If the Appeal Court does not take action, I will go to the Supreme Court and if there is still no action, I will go to the Supreme Council of Magistracy,” Hean said.

He said if he exhausted all legal means and still loses, he will resign from the Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organisation.

Hean alleged that the two officials had illegally cleared around 100ha of the forest land, 20ha of which was used to plant mango trees, in the sanctuary in Oral district’s Tasal commune.

He pressed the charges against the two under Articles 311 and 312 of the Criminal Code and Articles 56 and 62 of the Law on Protected Natural Sites, demanding $10,000 in compensation.

The former Kampong Speu investigating judge declined to comment on the case. “I can’t give you a reason for the decision to drop the charges because it’s a secret of the investigating judge,” he claimed.

Sokhun could not be reached for comment on Monday, while his predecessor Chhie Heng said he was in a meeting and declined to comment.

Chea Hean’s lawyer Sam Chamroeun said he will discuss the appeal with his client.

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