A district official and a retired Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldier in Stung Treng province have been arrested and charged for allegedly leading hundreds of villagers on a raid of a local Forestry Administration building to reclaim their impounded tractors, officials said Sunday.
Sam Bunthin, deputy administration director of Siem Pang district, and Uk Savin, a retired soldier, were arrested by military police on Saturday and subsequently charged with stealing forest evidence under the 2002 Forestry Law, said Pen Sarath, a provincial court prosecutor.
Provincial military police commander Ieng Vandy said his officers arrested the two men based on evidence provided by the Forestry Administration, including photographs of them destroying a padlock on the main gate of the administration’s Siem Pang division office to let around villagers take back tractors that had been impounded for several months. The administration claims the villagers were using the tractors to transport illegally cut logs.
The division office has been raided twice in recent months, both times by about 200 villagers. Neither Mr. Sarath nor Brigadier General Vandy would say which of the raids the suspects were accused of leading.
“We arrested these two men using a court warrant for forest crimes,” Brig. Gen. Vandy said.
He added that the men had already been taken to Phnom Penh for detention to preclude any protest from local villagers.
Siem Pang district governor Sy Suon confirmed the arrest of his deputy and denied any personal responsibility.
“The witnesses saw these two men destroying the padlock,” Mr. Suon said. “I also regretted his act. But it is his personal business. There was no assignment from the district.”
In a separate incident, a fire completely destroyed the head office for Virachey National Park on Sunday, according to Mr. Suon. The $50,000 building sits across the street from the Forestry Administration’s Siem Pang division office and was built at the World Bank’s expense.
He said the fire started at 1:40 p.m. and burned out on its own by 4:20 p.m.
“The fire lasted almost three hours,” he said. “We could not put it out because there is no fire truck here.”
The building is located less than 50 meters from the Sekong River and sits opposite the Forestry Administration office raided by the villagers.
“I am so regretful,” said Soth Khoeun, the head of Virachey National Park’s rangers. “It happened just minutes after I left for lunch. It started from an electrical circuit.”
Mr. Khoeun said there had not yet been any formal investigation into the cause of the fire but said he suspected an electrical malfunction because witnesses reported hearing popping noises coming from inside the building.
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