The Pursat Provincial Court on Sunday charged two men with illegally clearing forest inside a wildlife sanctuary, while authorities are still searching for the man they were allegedly working for, officials said on Monday.
Provincial prosecutor Tan Seihak Dechak said that Neak Hoeum, 35, and Mom Dy, 44, both residents of Veal Veng district’s Anlong Reap commune, were arrested inside the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary on Friday and charged at the court on Sunday.
“The court decided to charge them yesterday with clearing forest belonging to the state. They are now in the provincial prison,” Mr. Seihak Dechak said.
The crime carries a penalty of five to 10 years in prison.
District military police commander Puth Bunthoeun said the two were arrested during a patrol of the sanctuary by district military police and officials from the Ministry of Environment.
“Our forces joined with environment officials to patrol that area,” he said, adding that the officers also confiscated a chainsaw and a motorbike at the scene.
Mr. Dechak said both men told the court they had been hired by someone to clear the forest inside the sanctuary, which borders Thailand.
“We are investigating to find someone who was behind them,” he said, declining to name the individual or divulge the amount of wood the two men are alleged to have harvested.
In early January, three men who were caught logging in the sanctuary told police they worked for a local businessman named Nhan Dim, who had promised to pay them $200 per hectare of cleared forest.
Eng Chhun Han, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said authorities should focus on catching the higher-ups profiting from the illegal logging trade.
“We welcome authorities punishing people who destroy the forest, but please do it transparently,” Mr. Chhun Han said.
“Actually, the workers are poor and they were paid about 20,000 to 25,000 riel per day to clear the forest,” he said of the jailed loggers.