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Ratanakkiri officials take fire over illegal logging

Ratanakkiri officials take fire over illegal logging

RIGHTS workers and villagers in Ratanakkiri province said Wednesday that local Forestry Department officials had failed to respond adequately to reports of a possible illegal logging operation, losing track of three lorries full of luxury wood.

Chhay Thy, provincial investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said he had received reports Tuesday from villagers in O’Yadav district that eight lorries containing luxury timber had been sighted in the forest behind a village in Bar Kham commune.

He added that he had asked provincial Forestry Department officials to intervene.

“Three Forestry Department officers visited the scene, but they did not arrange for anybody to guard the timber,” he said.

Tev Huon, who lives in the commune, said three of the lorries had gone missing in the middle of the night.

“Three of the timber lorries were secretly removed at midnight, and only five lorries remain,” he said.

He added that he believes the timber belongs to Mao Sophat, the deputy police chief of Bar Kham commune, who could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Both Chhay Thy and Tev Huon said the incident had fuelled concerns that the recently appointed director of the provincial Forestry Department would do little to curtail the illegal timber trade.

Vong Sok Serey, who was formerly director of the Forestry Department in Stung Treng province, replaced the Ratanakkiri director, Youkan Vimean, on April 20, in a move officials described as part of routine administrative shuffles.

Vong Sok Serey said Wednesday that his staff was working on the case, and denied allegations that the department had failed to investigate it.

“We have sent forces to guard the timber, and no one has taken it away secretly,” he said. “Please believe the authorities. Do not just listen to other reports.”

Chhay Thy acknowledged that Vong Sok Serey had launched an operation to crack down on illegal logging in April, and had confiscated 600 pieces of luxury timber in Voeung Sai district.