Villagers in Mondolkiri province on Tuesday detained and handed over to authorities a Vietnamese man who told police that Sos Malen, a local environmental official, had let him into Cambodia to log illegally. Immigration police let the man go, however, claiming to have insufficient evidence to hold him.
Khut Chanra said Thursday that he and about 40 other local villagers were patrolling Pech Chreada district’s Phnom Nam Lier Wildlife Sanctuary for illegal loggers on Tuesday night when they came across a team of six Vietnamese men about to drive two truckloads of Koki logs across the border into Vietnam. The villagers seized the wood and one of the loggers, but the other five escaped.
“We handed the man over to the Bosra commune police [Wednesday], and we kept the trucks at a house in the community for evidence,” Mr. Chanra said. “We will not let anyone take them unless the court takes action.”
Mr. Chanra said the villagers on Wednesday also filed a complaint with the provincial court, asking it to press charges against Mr. Malen, who overseas the wildlife sanctuary, and any accomplices.
Deputy commune police chief Plang Chor said he and his officers questioned the Vietnamese man on Wednesday before handing him over to the provincial immigration police because he was a foreigner.
“He told us that he was hired to cut wood for a businessman, Loeung, living in Vietnam. And he told us that a Cambodian environment official, Sos Malen, opened the border [checkpoint] for them so they could cut the trees,” Mr. Chor said.
In Heng, chief of the provincial immigration police, said he let the man go because of an agreement between Cambodia and Vietnam to send back anyone who crosses their shared border illegally, and because there was not enough evidence to hold him. He said the villagers refused to give up the trucks and logs they had confiscated.
“We received the man, but I asked permission from a provincial court prosecutor to release him because we had no evidence to accuse him of committing the crime,” he said.
Mr. Heng said he got the permission he asked for, but refused to name the prosecutor.
Mondolkiri Provincial Court director Ya Narin said he was not aware of the case but added that the authorities should have sent the man to the court. Now that the man was gone, he said, there was nothing the court could do.
Provincial environment department director Chhit Sophal confirmed that Mr. Malen was a department official but said he had not heard about the allegations against him.
“I am not sure whether Mr. Malen really committed the crime, but I will investigate,” he said.
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