Soldiers, Civilians Charged Over Illegal Forest Clearing Operation

A soldier and two civilians were charged on Wednesday with illegally clearing forest land by the Kompong Thom Provincial Court, while a second soldier who allegedly guarded the illicit operation has been charged with illegal weapons possession, a court official said Thursday.

Dy Va, 48, a captain in the Defense Ministry’s engineering unit, was charged under the Forestry Law with clearing forest land for ownership without permission, along with Chea Chean, 50, and Kim San, 46, who he had allegedly hired as laborers, said Say Nora, a deputy prosecutor at the court.

Chhorm Chhorvoan, 52, a sergeant major in Battambang province’s Brigade 52, was charged with illegal weapons posses-

sion because he did not have a license for his K-59 pistol, Mr. Nora said, adding that Mr. Va had also been armed, but had a license.

“Mr. Chhorvoan did not do the forest clearing, but we charged him with illegal weapons possession because he was guarding his friend,” the deputy prosecutor said. “All of them have been in the provincial prison since yesterday [Wednesday] evening.”

Hak Sothy, who heads the Forestry Administration’s triage in Prasat Sambor district, said locals tipped off authorities about the clearing in Taing Krasao commune and that forestry officials on Tuesday joined district police and military police in arresting the two uniformed soldiers at the scene, where Mr. Va had been driving his own bulldozer.

“They planned to clear seven hectares of land but had cleared only one hectare when we got there,” he said, adding that the two claimed they were clearing the land for Ms. Chean and Mr. San, “dealers” who had hired them for the job.

Mr. Sothy said the soldiers also told authorities that they were to be paid a combined $460 per hectare for their labor. Ms. Chean and Mr. San were arrested on Wednesday after being identified by the soldiers.

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