4 Suspended Forestry Officials Back on Job

Four suspended Siem Reap forestry officials returned to their jobs Friday, officials said Sunday, though they remained close-lipped about an investigation into a collapsed bridge in the prov­ince’s Banteay Srei commune that prompted their three-month suspension.

In a ministerial decree signed July 9, Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun authorized the reinstatement of Van Sophanna, chief of the Northern Tonle Sap inspectorate; Ly Chu Bieng, chief of forestry for Siem Reap province; Khim Pan, forestry chief for Banteay Srei district; and Buoy Tan Sothearith, forestry chief for Banteay Srei commune.

The four were suspended April 12 for what officials at the time called dereliction of duty. A truck authorized by a company called Powerlink, which collapsed the bridge near Banteay Srei temple, was overloaded with timber and carried higher-quality timber than allowed by the transport permit accompanying the load, Chan Sarun said Sunday.

“Three months’ punishment is sufficient for them to improve their work, so we decided to lift the suspension,” he said.

Van Sophanna did not answer repeated calls Sunday. The other three officials could not be reached for comment.

After the collapse, observers questioned whether the timber carried in the truck had been illegally cut after the logging ban at the end of 2001. Eyewitnesses also reported that more than one logging truck crossed the bridge that night.

Chan Sarun said only that the logs were legal, though he did not say whether the investigation examined when and where the wood was cut.

Mike Davis, of forestry watchdog Global Witness, called for the public release of reports documenting the investigation.

Forestry investigations are almost always “shrouded in secrecy,” he said. “This conforms to the well-established pattern of forestry officials not being disciplined according to the forest law, at least not in any transparent way.”


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