Probe Under Way on Military Logging Case

The Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) has launched an investigation into an October 2010 incident in which three RCAF soldiers allegedly opened fire on Forestry Administration officials who had just confiscated a haul of illegal wood, one of the officials involved said yesterday.

An RCAF official, meanwhile, said the military had launched its own investigation into the incident.

Thorng Sokhay, chief of the Forestry Administration’s Srenoy triage in Siem Reap province, said ACU officials had questioned him about his original complaint to the local court yesterday morning but declined to discuss the proceeding.

“The ACU questioned me about the complaint I filed,” he said. “I cannot comment in detail about the case because it is a secret of the ACU.”

Mr. Sokhay claims that he and two colleagues had just confiscated a truck filled with illegally logged, luxury-grade wood and were driving it back to their office when the soldiers fired at his car and the truck.

By early March, the provincial court had issued arrest warrants for the three soldiers from RCAF’s Fifth Battalion: Captain Rum Sa Iem, 31; warrant officer Chhum Chenda, 31; and Captain Roeurng Sarin, 33.

All three have yet to be arrested.

The launch of the ACU’s investigation comes amid increasing public attention to the tight links between the military and illegal logging. Prime Minister Hun Sen recently called on authorities to help stop the illegal trade by reporting cases involving high-ranking officials to the ACU or directly to his office.

Mr. Sokhay’s lawyer, Kouy Thun­na, said his client went through the history of the case with the ACU officials, whom he identified as Ev Phearum and Keo Neathmony.

“The ACU told us that they will investigate the case,” he said. “I appeal to the authorities to arrest the suspects and follow the pro­vincial court’s arrest warrant and bring them in for punishment by the law so that Forestry Administration officials won’t be afraid to crack down.”

Contacted by phone, Mr. Phea­rum said he did not know a Mr. Sokhay before declining to answer any further questions. ACU Chairman Om Yentieng and a man answering Mr. Neathmony’s phone also declined to comment.

In a Dec 6 letter to Mr. Thunna, RCAF Commander-in-Chief General Pol Saroeun said the military was launching its own investigation into the incident. It came a day after Mr. Thunna wrote to RCAF to complain that the three suspects had not been arrested.

Colonel Prak Chanthoeun, dep­uty commander of the Siem Reap military police, said his office had never received an arrest warrant for the men.

But Colonel Khuon Sovann, head of the military’s communications, public affairs and inspection bureau, confirmed that an investigation was under way.

“I am investigating and inspecting this case, so I cannot speak,” he said.

Brigadier General Samreth Sa­reth, who commands the Fifth Bat­talion in Siem Reap, said military officials had already questioned the suspects.

“The inspection officials from RCAF went to investigate and ques­tion the three officers five days ago,” he said, but declined to say whether they had been taken into custody.

Earlier this month, he called the incident a “misunderstanding” and said the soldiers, who suspected the vehicles of carrying illegal timber, only opened fire after they failed to heed their orders to stop.

    (Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

 

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