Six Vietnamese Charged Over Logging; Military Collusion Alleged

The Mondolkiri Provincial Court on Friday charged six Vietnamese nationals with illegally logging in the province’s O’Reang district, where they were caught felling first-grade Sokrom trees after allegedly crossing into Cambodia with the help of a local military officer, officials said Sunday.

Officials from the Forestry Administration’s Mondolkiri cantonment arrested the six men in a forested section of Sre Khtum commune on Wednesday night as they were hard at work with chainsaws and a tractor, felling the trees and loading the valuable timber into three homemade trucks, according to Kong Putheara, the head of conservation and biodiversity for the administration in the district.

“The arrest came after a community forest patrol reported to us that some Vietnamese people entered the forests to cut down the trees,” Mr. Putheara said, adding that the men intended to transport the wood back to their home country.

“We questioned the six Vietnamese people and they told us that a provincial military official named Rith opened the [border] for them so they could enter Cambodia to log,” he said.

Provincial military commander Chhit Meng Sreng on Sunday confirmed that Sao Rith, 38, a second lieutenant, had been accused of aiding the Vietnamese loggers, but said only a court could determine his guilt or innocence.

“I already called this person back to the unit [headquarters] and I will send him to court…if they need him for questioning sometime,” Brigadier General Meng Sreng said.

“I always tell military officials not to do wrong because they will face the law, but they don’t listen to me,” he added.

Mondolkiri court prosecutor So Sovichea said he charged the six men with illegal logging on Friday and ordered them sent to the provincial prison to await trial.

“We already charged the suspects and we handed them to Investigating Judge Ya Natin to continue management [of their case],” he said.

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