3 Vietnamese Loggers Charged; Raid Nets 5 More

Three Vietnamese men arrested in Kratie province as they attempted to smuggle luxury timber into Vietnam were charged and placed in provisional detention Tuesday, while five more Vietnamese men were arrested on Monday during a raid on a logging camp in Mondolkiri province, officials said.

Military police and customs officials arrested the three suspects on Saturday as the convoy of trucks they were riding in sped through a checkpoint in Snuol district, with reports that gunfire was exchanged.

On Tuesday, they were charged under articles 96 and 98 of the Forestry Law, according to Ty Sovinthal, a prosecutor at the Kratie Provincial Court.

“They face between one and five years in prison and fines between 10 million and 100 million riel [$2,500 to $25,000] if found guilty,” he said.

Local media reported on Monday that the convoy was made up of 17 trucks loaded with luxury-grade timber, and that the smugglers fired on a special team of military police and customs officials sent to make arrests following an investigation into an illicit logging operation in the area.

The three arrested were found to be carrying more than 19 cubic meters of first-grade timber.

Mr. Sovinthal said Tuesday that there would be an investigation into the potential involvement of border police or soldiers in the smuggling.

“I will report to the [Anti-Corruption Unit] if we find any irregularities with those officials,” he said.

Kheng Tito, spokesman for the national military police, on Monday denied that shots had been fired at the checkpoint, but local officials said they had heard gunfire and found spent ammunition.

On Monday, Mondolkiri provincial military police raided an illegal logging camp in Keo Seima district, which borders Kratie’s Snuol district to the south, and arrested five Vietnamese men, according to officials.

Cheng Soriya, commander of the provincial military police, said the camp was inside the Seima Protected Forest and that at least 15 suspects had escaped.

“They were arrested because they were logging timber on our soil,” he said, adding that eight chainsaws, an AK-47 magazine and a motorbike had also been confiscated. “We are still searching for the others.”

The Vietnamese border area in Kratie and Mondolkiri has seen a spate of logging busts, often involving Vietnamese nationals.

Asked Tuesday how foreigners were able to freely cross the border to log in Cambodia and then transport the timber back to Vietnam, Chong Sochantha, chief of administration in Mondolkiri, said authorities were looking into that question.

“The provincial governor is paying close attention to this,” he said. “We know the Vietnamese are crossing the border at some checkpoints and we are focusing on that.”

Mr. Sochantha added that any border police or soldiers found to be colluding with loggers would face punishment.

“We are not careless about this issue,” he said. “We are not sure whether those loggers were inside our province due to corruption or not, but if [officials are complicit] they must face the law.”

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