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Shots fired in Mondulkiri timber chase

An official inspects timber that was illegally felled in Mondulkiri’s Keo Seima district earlier this week. ADHOC
An official inspects timber that was illegally felled in Mondulkiri’s Keo Seima district earlier this week. ADHOC

Shots fired in Mondulkiri timber chase

A former Mondulkiri provincial military police officer, Sou Marith, fired on authorities who had chased a car carrying timber to his home, but managed to make good his escape in the hours it took authorities to procure an arrest warrant, local authorities said.

It’s not Marith’s first run-in with the law over illegal timber.

He first made headlines in 2014 for allegedly pointing a gun at the head of Keo Seima district’s governor when officials caught him carrying luxury wood in his SUV, an incident for which he has yet to face charges, despite the governor filing a lawsuit with the court.

On Wednesday, two cars loaded with timber from O’Raing district were chased down in a joint operation with Keo Seima district authorities and led by military police. While one was intercepted, the other was followed to Marith’s home in Sre Khtum commune, according to Keo Seima District Governor Sin Vannvuth, the same governor that Marith threatened with his gun.

“Military police forces saw and chased the cars. The affiliate ran into the house; [while] in the house, [Sou Marith] shot at the joint forces and escaped,” Vannvuth said, adding that he did not know exactly how many shots were fired.

According to Vannvuth, Marith has not been part of the military police for over a year, and should therefore be facing illegal weapon possession charges, among others.

“He has a gun to use and I wonder about this . . . It is an illegal weapon,” he said. “No legal action has been taken against him; this is maybe because he has so much money.”

Explaining the circumstances, Vannvuth said that Marith’s house is located on the border of Kratie province and Keo Seima district, a location that facilitates committing forestry crimes.

After shots were fired, Vannvuth continued, rather than storming the home, military police surrounded it instead, waiting a few hours for a warrant from the provincial court.

“In the intervening time waiting for the warrant, Sou Marith managed to escape. Since we did not have the warrant, we could not” enter the house, Vannvuth said, maintaining that Marith is known to have run illegal businesses and committed several crimes in the past.

“However, there was no measure taken against him, including for pointing the gun at my head,” the governor added.

When the warrant arrived, delivered by provincial prosecutor Long Hokmeng, authorities searched the home and found more than 200 pieces of luxury timber such as thnong and beng, as well as heavy carpentry machinery.

According to Hokmeng, the seized evidence is being held at the district conservation office, while the driver of the car that led authorities to Marith’s house in the first place was arrested and is being detained.

Sak Sarang, Mondulkiri provincial military police commander, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Eng Hy, spokesman of the National Military Police, yesterday confirmed that Marith had been removed from the ranks, but declined to provide a reason, saying he did not “want to talk about old things”.

Asked about Wednesday’s events, Hy declined to comment as it is an ongoing investigation.

Meanwhile, also in Keo Seima district, the provincial office of rights group Adhoc reported yesterday that they found 20 felled trees and logs in a community forest following a two-day field investigation with local ethnic Phnong residents.

A Phnong villager, Yin Soeng, said he had seen much more evidence of illegal logging before the government crackdown because the community forest is located near an economic land concession belonging to the Binh Phuoc I company, which has been accused of involvement in the timber trade.

Separately, 250 logs of top-grade timber were confiscated from a local sawmill yesterday in Oddar Meanchey’s Anglong Veng district, according to Tieng David, the provincial Forestry Administration director.

“The sawmill was operated without permission from the Forestry Administration, so we cracked down,” David said, adding the owner was questioned about the source of timber.

“Many people, including a monk from a nearby pagoda, brought timber to the sawmill to have it made into furniture or household materials,” he said.

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