The Ratanakkiri provincial police commissioner has denied local media reports that four policemen were removed from their positions for allowing 12 Vietnamese nationals to bring items of machinery across the border to clear land in a protected National Park.
Local news media had named the four as Kantuy Neak border post chief Huong Phuong; his deputy Teu Chay; Prachou Priev, the head of O’Tayak border checkpoint; and O’Yeul border post chief Phoeun In.
The reports claimed they were relieved of their positions due to their failure to adequately patrol the border and thus allow 12 Vietnamese men to bring in six vehicles – including bulldozers and other land clearing machinery – to illegally clear the protected area in Virak Chey National Park.
“This is not true. The four police officers who were mentioned were questioned, but they were not involved in allowing the Vietnamese to bring in the equipment. They had asked to take leave, for health reasons, 10 days before it happened,” Ratanakkiri provincial police chief Yin Chamnan said.
He said when the policemen were summoned to discuss their request, they said they wanted to transfer from their positions leading the border posts to serve as normal officers at the 203 Border Protection Headquarters, citing “health issues which make it difficult to lead the patrol team”.
Chamnan said a Ratanakkiri provincial police task force was working with relevant authorities to find and punish whoever allowed the Vietnamese to illegally import the machinery.
Soeung Sen Karuna, the spokesman for human rights group Adhoc, expressed his support for the police’s efforts to find the truth in the case and their refusal to punish innocent officials.
“This case involves local authorities and border officials, so provincial and national authorities should intensify their investigation to uncover the truth, find those responsible and deliver suitable punishment according to the law."
“Without collaboration with border police or local authorities, those people could not bring six large vehicles into the country to clear forest land in a protected area,” he said.
On April 16, while patrolling Virak Chey National Park, Ratanakkiri Military Police arrested the men for crossing the border into Cambodia and illegally clearing the forest land in Taveng district’s Taveng Loeu commune.
Following their detention, authorities confiscated documents from the 12 men naming Sek Vireak, 43, a representative of Cambodian firm Noupheap Sophy Investment Co Ltd.
The documents showed that the company had rented the six items of machinery to a Vietnamese company named Manh Le Gia – represented by Nguyen Luong Lac – to level the land concession in order to grow crops.
Police also found an additional document showing that Vireak rented the land in question to a Vietnamese national named Vo Nguyen Sa for $70 per ha per year.
On April 21, Investigating Judge Leng Vannarith charged the 12 Vietnamese men with “crossing the border without legal permission” according to Article 29 of the Immigration Law and “importing machinery for illegal forest clearing and taking forest land as personal property” according to Articles 56, 58 and 62 of the Law on Natural Protected Areas.
They are currently being held at Phnom Svay prison awaiting a court hearing and other legal procedures.