The Environment Ministry will open a formal investigation into allegations that a pair of senior officials in Siem Reap province allowed loggers to clear-cut 10,000 hectares of forest inside a national park—more than a quarter of the protected area.
The claims were made by nine rangers employed by Phnom Kulen National Park. They accuse the park’s deputy director, Sous Sakhan, of colluding with a deputy director of the provincial environment department, Sim Chhiv Chheanpesith, in permitting loggers to decimate large swaths of the 37,000-hectare park—including valuable Chheuteal and Koki trees—over the past two years.
A written complaint detailing the accusations was lodged with the environment department early this month and forwarded to the ministry this week. The officials deny wrongdoing, and Mr. Chhiv Cheanpesith said the rangers were attempting to frame him for their own crimes. “The monkey eats the rice and smears the mouth of the goat,” he said on Wednesday.
Reached on Thursday, Environment Minister Say Sam Al said he had seen the complaint and that a committee would be formed to probe the rangers’ accusations.
“We will open an investigation into the complaint to find the truth,” he said. “I cannot say more.”
Both Mr. Sakhan and Mr. Chhiv Chheanpesith said they were pleased to hear about the investigation, confident it would prove their innocence.
“I am not worried about the investigation because I did nothing wrong,” the former said.
“The ministry will find that I am clean,” echoed the latter.
On Wednesday, Siem Reap environment department director Phuong Lina admitted that about 10,000 hectares of the 37,000-hectare national park had been logged, but blamed it on another deputy park director, Soth Sophea, whom he said was recently removed from his position and reassigned for an unknown reason.
Asked about Mr. Sophea on Thursday, the environment minister was tight-lipped.
“I can’t comment on the reason for his removal,” he said. “My comments might affect the honor of the individual,” he said.