The Pursat Provincial Court on Tuesday charged three men with illegally clearing forest inside a protected wildlife sanctuary, and authorities are still searching for the man they were allegedly working for, officials said Wednesday.
Provincial prosecutor Tan Seihak Dechak said the three charged men—Pak Im, 41, Kong Puth, 20, and Roeun Rob, 31—were arrested on Monday while logging illegally inside the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, which borders Thailand.
“The court has charged the three men with clearing forest and right now they are being held in the [provincial] prison,” he said, and claimed that they had all confessed to the alleged crime.
The crime carries a penalty of five to 10 years in prison.
Chab Seath, the sanctuary’s director, said the three men had clear-cut about 5 hectares inside Veal Veng district’s O’Som commune and that they were working for a man named Nhan Dim.
“They cleared 5 hectares of forestland and they confessed that a local businessman named Nhan Dim hired them to clear the forest and promised to pay them $200 per hectare,” he said.
“We are searching for Mr. Dim, who has fled,” he added.
A local official for the Forestry Administration could not be reached.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Adhoc, said it was not fair for the court to prosecute the three men when so many high-ranking officials and powerful businessmen go unpunished for far greater forest crimes.
“The court should consider freeing them [the three charged men] and investigating to arrest who is behind employing them,” Mr. Sam Ath said. “It is unjust for them because we never see the rich and powerful people facing the penalties when they violate the forests.”