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Villagers file suit against wildlife chief over logging

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Illegally logged timber found in Mondulkiri province in April. Photo supplied

Villagers file suit against wildlife chief over logging

The director of Mondulkiri province’s Phnom Prich wildlife sanctuary, Han Sokhon, is set to face legal action from an indigenous community.

The villagers allege he colluded to exploit the very forest he was meant to safeguard after villagers discovered illegal logging in the protected area.

The 105 Bunong families are also preparing to file a complaint against him with the provincial court and the Ministry of Environment for threatening the patrol team that came across the deforestation, a representative told The Post on Monday.

The families live in Koh Nhek district’s Rayum commune.

More than 60 villagers came across the illegal logging while on patrol in the protected wildlife sanctuary on April 29.

Han Sokhon is said to have arrived there to protect the loggers, and is alleged to have threatened to have the villagers arrested, said Prang Nop, the representative.

The timber was intended to be transported to Vietnam, he claimed.

“He threatened us. He said if anyone protested, he would have them imprisoned. He also said he could have us evicted from the village at any time. I am nearly 70 years old. No one has ever dared insult me like this. There would be nothing left of this forest now without our efforts,” Nop said.

He said villagers are currently discussing other ways to have Sokhon punished, and that he will submit the legal complaint to the Mondulkiri provincial court and Ministry of Environment on Thursday.

Han Sokhon could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Keo Sopheak, the director of the provincial Department of Environment, hung up the phone when contacte by The Post on Monday.

Ministry of Environment secretary of state and spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post on Monday that he had not been informed of the case.

“I need to check on the issue. If they have a complaint, they can forward it to me. I cannot tell you anything more at the moment,” Pheaktra said.

Eang Mengly, the provincial coordinator for right groups Adhoc, said on Monday that he was aware of the matter but hadn’t been informed of the details.

“If the story is as the villagers have said, then Sokhon’s actions were illegal and punishable under the Criminal Code. If he was in a position of authority but did not protect the forest and threatened the activists instead, it seriously violated the law and morality,” he said.

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