Officials Charged With Logging in Dragon’s Tail

Three border police officers and two officials in charge of the country’s largest protected area have been charged with several crimes after they were accused of running a massive logging operation in the Ratanakkiri province territory known as the Dragon’s Tail.

Ouk Savouth, chief prosecutor of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said he had charged Phon Sophat, commander of Border Unit 203, and his deputy commanders, Keo Louna and Lim Say, on July 27 with taking bribes, destroying the forest and illegal transportation of logs.

Also charged were Koy Sokha, director of Virachey National Park, and deputy director Yim Sath, Ouk Savouth said.

The logging operation was discovered on May 12, 2004, when government officials and World Bank representatives flew over the na­tional park to review progress of a $4.91-million, bank-funded initiative aimed at better managing the protected area .

The representatives were reportedly shocked to see the logging op­er­ation, and reported it to government officials who established an in­ter­ministerial committee to investigate, said Municipal Court Judge Kim Sophorn.

According to a report from the Ra­t­anakkiri provincial police to National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy dated July 16, 2004, Viet­namese na­tionals crossed the Cam­bodia-Laos border several times earlier that year with border police ap­proval.

The Vietnamese nationals cut trees and transported them back, eventually taking 500 truckloads of trees out of the country, the report states.

“After all the logs were transported out, Phon Sophat, Keo Louna and Lim Say shared the money given to them with about 40 people from the two police posts,” the report says.

“The chief and deputy received $1,000 and each subordinate re­ceived $600. They said that they were not satisfied with the money be­cause it was less than they were supposed to get.”

Following the investigation, the Environment Ministry lodged a complaint with the Ratanakkiri Pro­vincial Court on Nov 15, but no ac­tion was ever taken, prompting the case to be brought to Phnom Penh, Kim Sophorn said.

Yim Kimsean, Environment Min­istry secretary of state, praised the charges. “This is a positive result from our hard work,” he said.

Mike Davis of Global Witness said the logging operation was the largest of its kind since the moratorium on logging was instituted in 2001.

The investigation was likely launched due to the embarrassing position government officials found themselves in following the discovery by World Bank officials, he said, adding that the court action was a positive step.

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