The Siem Reap Provincial Court on Saturday charged five people for alleged involvement in clearing about 10 hectares of community forest in Svay Loeu district after being hired by an unidentified businessman, local authorities said on Sunday.
Tea Kimsoth, director of the Siem Reap Forestry Administration cantonment, said the five suspects were arrested after being caught clearing forest in Kantuot commune on Friday with about 10 other people who fled the scene and remain at large.
“Those people used chainsaws to cut trees, and they burned forest to take land for someone else,” Mr. Kimsoth said, adding that the suspects refused to name their employer.
“The five offenders told us they were hired to clear forest for a businessman, but they did not say the name, so we are now investigating to find people involved with the destruction.”
The group had already been clearing land for about three months, he said, despite authorities ordering them to stop on numerous occasions.
“We told these people not to clear forest because this is the state forest, but they never listened to us,” he said. “We arrested the five people and brought them to court this time to set an example to people.”
Mr. Kimsoth said the local residents relied on the community forest for their livelihoods, often collecting natural products to sell at the market.
Yin Sreang, a spokesman for the provincial court, said the five suspects—Soeun Sambath, 29; Soeun Samban, 24; Soeun Kranh, 37; Lat Lonh, 45; and Van Neth, 30 —were charged with destroying state property under the Forestry Law and face up to 10 years in prison.
“The five offenders were charged on Saturday by Investigating Judge Rem Sopheak and they are now in temporary detention at the provincial prison to wait for trial,” he said.