Government Seizes More Wood; Still No Charges

An ad hoc task force established by Prime Minister Hun Sen to target illegal loggers in eastern Cambodia has seized 70,000 cubic meters of timber since starting work three months ago but is yet to see a single person charged.

On March 31, Mr. Hun Sen announced that the task force, headed by National Military Police commander Sao Sokha, had seized between 30,000 and 40,000 cubic meters of wood, most of it found in large piles on rubber plantations or inside private warehouses, private sawmills and state forests.

Task force spokesman Eng Hy said Tuesday that the tally had since roughly doubled to 70,000 cubic meters but refused to reveal where the timber was found.

“I am not able to give the names of the companies because it would affect the investigations of the court prosecutors,” he said, without elaborating.

Brigadier General Hy said the task force had arrested several small-time loggers—he said he could not recall how many—but added that they had all been released by court officials because “the crimes were small.” He said the team had also sent another 57 cases to provincial courts in connection with the various piles of wood it had found and that the courts had in turn issued 31 summonses—but none for any of the wealthy businessmen who own many of the plantations and mills involved.

And despite the fact that several piles of illegally sourced wood were undisputedly found at the licensed plantations and mills, Brig. Gen. Hy said that not a single person had been charged.

“The expert officials from the Forestry Administration have already accused the people and companies involved, and the cases have been sent to the courts in those provinces,” Mr. Hy said. “But the courts have not yet laid charges because the courts are still following procedures.”

So Sovichea, a deputy prosecutor at the Mondolkiri Provincial Court, said he was pursuing cases filed by the task force against four or five companies but refused to name the firms. He said none of the cases had gone to trial but that the one-month window their representatives had been given to appear for questioning had nearly expired.

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