The Mondulkiri Provincial Court has summoned two suspects to appear in court over the alleged hiring of five villagers to clear forest land last week at the northeast biodiversity conservation corridor in Koh Nhek district.
Provincial court spokesman Meas Bros told The Post that on February 11, five villagers in Rayor commune named Viek Neak, 38; Lay Vai, 34; Sun Tevoan, 21; Nguon Chhvaek, 22; and Phlanh Sam Ol, 44, were caught clearing the land in Rayor commune.
They were originally due to be sent to court on February 13 to start proceedings in relation to the crime. However, they were released on February 14, after the men said they were hired and ordered to carry out the clearing.
Bros said a 34-year-old man in Sre Sangkum commune and a 31-year-old in Rayor commune in the district had been suspected of ordering forest clearing in the corridor.
“According to the answers of the five suspects, they were acting on orders of their employers and were not seeking to clear land for personal gain. The court judged that they were not embroiled in a land grab scheme for their personal ownership.
“Therefore the court has decided to release the five on bail, placing them temporarily under court supervision. The court is now preparing to summon the alleged employers for questioning in the case,” he said.
However, Provincial Department of Environment director Keo Sopheak expressed dissapointment with the court’s decision to release the five on bail and place them under court supervision.
“The forest rangers caught the initial five suspects in the act of committing a flagrant offence. They were logging and clearing forest land in the northeast biodiversity conservation corridor.
“Whether they were employed or not, this activity is a third-grade natural resource crime that carries a prison sentence of two to five years,” he told The Post on Wednesday.
He said he could not take issue with the decision over the bail because it was done at the discretion of the court. But he urged the court to take immediate measures against the suspects that were caught and the ringleaders behind the crime.
Concerning the case, Mondulkiri Provincial Court prosecutor Mom Vanda said the court is now speeding up its proceedings to bring the ringleaders in for questioning.
“Though the five were released on bail, they will not get away from charges. They are still very much part of this investigation,” he said.