Thirty-two prisoners have escaped from a dilapidated prison in Mondolkiri province, including 19 Vietnamese citizens convicted of illegal logging, Mondolkiri officials said.
The prisoners broke through the walls of the prison building in two successive breakouts, one in August and one last month, according to Mondolkiri provincial Cabinet chief Svay Sam Eang and Samkol Sokhan, director of the Ministry of the Interior’s Prison Department.
Only one prisoner has not escaped from the prison, Svay Sam Eang said. None of the escapees has been apprehended.
The Mondolkiri court has issued a detention warrant for Khun Sophea, deputy director of the provincial prison, who was in charge of the keys to the prison, Samkol Sokhan said.
In addition, Interior Ministry officials have been sent to the province to investigate the breakout, he said.
A provincial police officer said that since the second breakout, on Oct 22, six prison guards have been detained.
In the first breakout, on Aug 16, the escapees were 11 Vietnamese loggers and four Cambodians convicted of various crimes, the officer said.
Six more Vietnamese and 11 Cambodians escaped in October. In February, provincial authorities arrested the loggers and confiscated four tractors and five chain saws, which police said the loggers were going to use to cart timber from Mondolkiri’s Pich Chreada district to Vietnam.
The loggers were imprisoned for six months before their trial.
In August, the loggers were acquitted of illegally entering Cambodia—the main charge they faced—but were fined $33,750 for logging in Mondolkiri’s forest. They were supposed to be kept in prison until they could pay the fines.
Under Cambodia’s new forestry law, illegal cutters face stiff penalties and up to 10 years in prison.
Mondolkiri has been the site of logging controversies several times before. The government last year fired then-governor Choam Bunkhan and then-deputy governor Meas Thorng after Vietnamese loggers shipped more than 400 truckloads of lumber across the border.