National Park Workers Accuse Bosses of Colluding With Loggers

Nine park service employees in Siem Reap province have filed a formal complaint against two of their superiors accusing them of colluding with illegal loggers to clear thousands of hectares of Phnom Kulen National Park.

According to the complaint, published online on Wednesday by local media, the employees accused Sim Chhiv Chheanpesith, deputy director of the provincial environment department, and Sous Sakhan, deputy director of the national park, of allowing loggers to clear some 10,000 hectares of the 37,000-hectare park over the past two years.

“They conspired to allow people to cut down trees in the park,” reads the complaint, which was submitted to the environment department.

In one specific but undated case, an employee said he received a request from two loggers asking to cut down six rare Chheuteal trees, so he called Mr. Sakhan for instructions. According to the complaint, Mr. Sakhan told the employee that the loggers could proceed and that he should keep quiet about it.

Another of the nine employees, Soeun Vibol, who runs the park’s environment office, said on Wednesday that he had spoken with loggers in the area who told him that they were working with Mr. Chheanpesith’s permission.

“Mr. Chheanpesith and Sous Sakhan have allowed people to cut down trees in Phnom Kulen National Park and I have taken some photographs for evidence of people cutting Koki trees with a chainsaw in the park,” he said.

Mr. Chheanpesith’s boss, environment department director Phuong Lina, said he received the complaint on Wednesday and would forward it to the Environment Ministry in Phnom Penh.

“I will send the complaint to the upper level for investigation,” he said. “We are now searching for the loggers and we will find out who is behind the logging.”

Mr. Lina admitted that some 10,000 hectares of the park had been logged since December, but blamed it on deputy park director Soth Sophea, whom he said the ministry had removed from his post three days ago and reassigned to the environment department.

“I don’t know why he was removed, but maybe he was found to be involved with illegal logging, Mr. Lina said.

A spokesman for the ministry could not be reached for comment.

Asked about the complaint, Mr. Chheanpesith denied the allegations and quoted a familiar Khmer proverb in claiming that his accusers were merely trying to mask their own crimes.

“I would like to say that the monkey eats the rice and smears the mouth of the goat,” he said. “The nine created the problem and accused me of conspiring with people to cut down the trees.”

Mr. Chheanpesith said he intended to file court complaints against his accusers, but had not yet done so because he was still collecting evidence against them.

Mr. Sakhan also denied the allegations. He confirmed having a telephone conversation with one of the nine employees, but rejected the claim that he had greenlighted any logging.

“I did not tell him to cut the six trees. I just told him to remove trees that fell down during the rain and to sell them,” Mr. Sakhan said. He added that his staff needed the money from the sales to supplement their meager salaries.

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