Seven officials disciplined for involvement in illegal logging operation, but monitors fear scheme is much more widespread
Illegal logging is gutting Cambodia’s forests.
SEVEN officials have been suspended for involvement in an illegal logging ring in Ratanakkiri Province's Andong Meas district.
"The five policemen and two soldiers were suspended after it was found out that they helped businesses in illegal logging," provincial police chief Ray Rai told the Post Sunday.
He identified two of the perpetrators as border military personnel Seng Khemarak and Ou Y Sophon.
He said their punishment, which began last Monday, would be "suspension for a couple of weeks, or a month, since it's their first time", adding that a second infraction would earn them criminal charges.
"They have admitted to having helped businesses log and to having received bribes for it," Ray Rai said. "We have to take action to punish them because we are worried their activities would spread," he said.
Ratanakkiri province was the scene of one of Cambodia's most far-reaching illegal logging schemes to be prosecuted so far, although the results appear to have had limited effect.
The chief defendant, former provincial governor Kham Khoeun, was sentenced in 2006 to 17 years in prison but has never been detained.
A prominent CPP figure, Kham Khoeun is reportedly living freely in Laos.
Six other officials were also convicted for their roles in the scam, a sophisticated multimillion-dollar logging racket which stripped trees from Virachey National Park and trucked them across the border to Vietnam.
Pen Bonnar, the coordinator in Ratanakkiri for the Cambodian rights group Adhoc, said that as a serious problem in Cambodia, illegal logging should be met with more than suspensions.
"They [perpetrators] should be punished for committing a serious crime," he said, adding that he would send incriminating evidence to the courts to encourage more serious action be taken against the officers.
According to him, the suspended officers had been abetting illegal loggers in the area for years.
"These officers had conspired with a number of rich men to log these forests for three years but last year they caused more serious destruction, which was noticed," he said.
Pen Bonnar said 60 felled trees, between one and two metres in width, were found in Lumphat district last weekend alone, adding that the list of culprits runs deeper than the group already identified.
"I know some police officers as well as district and forestry officials who are involved in logging here," he said.