Checkpoint Chiefs Suspended Over Logging

Police in Mondolkiri province have suspended the chiefs of two border checkpoints suspected of colluding with Vietnamese loggers to let them sneak into the country and smuggle out timber, a local official said on Monday.

Leang Phearath, police chief of the O’houch checkpoint, and Chem Ratana, police chief of the O’chum checkpoint, were suspended as part of an ongoing investigation into how six Vietnamese nationals arrested last month for illegal logging got into the country, said Van Danin, a provincial police spokesman.

“We suspended them from their jobs and are holding them at the provincial police headquarters for further investigation,” he said. “We have sent other officials to manage those checkpoints instead.”

Mr. Danin said he could not recall the exact day the two men were suspended. They were required to sign in at provincial police headquarters every day, but could leave in the evenings, he added.

Authorities arrested the six Vietnamese men along with one Cambodian on February 22 as they were preparing to cross into Vietnam with eight trucks packed with timber illegally logged from the Keo Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area. The Vietnamese men were later charged with logging and entering Cambodia illegally, and are in detention awaiting trial. The court released their Cambodian companion on the grounds that he was merely a hired driver.

In an unrelated case, police in Ratanakkiri province on Saturday arrested eight Vietnamese nationals also accused of entering the country and logging illegally.

Officers were on a routine inspection of a rubber plantation owned by a Vietnamese company when they received a tipoff that people were logging illegally on a nearby plantation, deputy provincial police chief Chea Bunthoeun said on Monday.

“After surrounding the site, we arrested some of the loggers and some of them ran away,” he said. “We confiscated five chainsaws, three tractors and two motorbikes with Vietnamese license plates.”

He said the timber they had logged was still being counted and included Phchoek, Sokrom and Sralao, all first-grade species.

Mr. Bunthoeun said the men claimed to have entered Cambodia without assistance at an unofficial crossing three days earlier and were still being questioned by the provincial court.

Cambodia placed a blanket ban on timber exports to Vietnam in January last year. But Vietnamese customs data obtained by the U.S. NGO Forest Trends indicates that the trade continues to thrive.

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