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Officials in Ratanakkiri ‘refused evidence of illegal logging’

Seized timber that community forest patrollers say forestry officials declined to accept because it was brought to them outside of working hours.
Seized timber that community forest patrollers say forestry officials declined to accept because it was brought to them outside of working hours. Photo supplied

Officials in Ratanakkiri ‘refused evidence of illegal logging’

Officials at a Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary station in Ratanakkiri have been accused of refusing to make a report and accept evidence from an illegal logging incident after several community forest patrollers and a wildlife sanctuary official brought it to them on Friday night.

The community members, who were patrolling their Veal Kambor community forest on Friday, witnessed the illegal logging activity and made a report to San Sany, deputy director of the Lumphat sanctuary, said Dam Lean, one of the community members.

With Sany’s assistance, the community members were able to stop the loggers and their employer, identified only as Phal. They then confiscated and transported a home-modified truck, one of four large logs, a chainsaw and the suspects to the station at around 7:30pm, Lean said.

However, station chief Ou Sothea and four other officials allegedly declined to accept the evidence because it was outside of “administrative hours”, Lean claimed.

Officials allegedly refused to accept the truck’s keys, giving them back to community members. Community members were also warned they would be responsible for any evidence lost since they left it at the station’s compound, though Lean and four other community members stayed overnight to guard the evidence.

Sothea yesterday maintained he had left the station at 4pm, and referred questions to Sany.

Despite having assisted the community members, Sany yesterday defended his subordinates for not accepting the evidence and making a report of the incident.

“It is difficult to work at night because there is no electricity,” he said. “Only lamps are available. We are old and cannot write with a lamp.”

Sany said Phal was asked to sign a contract the next day saying he would no longer participate in illegal logging.

Seng Bunra, country director for Conservation International, said he couldn’t comment on this particular case, but in general terms, when people make a report on illegal logging, “officials need to take action”.

Bun Thai, a provincial monitor for rights group Licadho, said the government has urged local authorities to work closely with community members to protect the forest, but officials’ actions are to the contrary.
“[Evidence] is taken to their station, so they should have accepted it,” he said.

Phon Khemerin, director of the Ratanakkiri Environment Department, declined to answer questions on whether any disciplinary action would be taken against the officials. Additional reporting by Yesenia Amaro

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