The Mondolkiri Provincial Court has charged nine Vietnamese nationals with illicit use of chainsaws and illegally entering Cambodia after authorities arrested the group of would-be loggers on Wednesday, while authorities are investigating the soldiers and police who allegedly let them in.
The group was arrested with two chainsaws between the nine of them while traveling across Pech Chreada district after passing through the Dak Churng border checkpoint.
Deputy provincial court prosecutor So Sovichea said on Sunday that the nine were charged on Friday with both illegal entry and illegal use of chainsaws, even though they had yet to use the power tools.
“The court charged the Vietnamese nationals and they are now in pretrial detention at the provincial prison,” he said.
Keo Sopheak, deputy chief of biodiversity conservation for the province, said the suspects confessed that they were searching for lucrative Thnong tree stumps and said they had been given permission to cross the border by three Cambodian border guards who were aware of their intentions.
“The Vietnamese nationals confessed that they entered the forest on Khmer land in an attempt to cut the stumps of Thnong trees,” he said. “We asked the Vietnamese nationals, and they told us that two soldiers named Phat and Phou and a border police officer named Chan let them enter to cut the stumps.”
Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) provincial commander Chhit Meng Sreng said he had ordered an investigation of the two soldiers, who were stationed with Platoon 103.
“I have asked the platoon commander to investigate, and if my soldiers really committed a crime, the court prosecutor can follow the law and I will remove their names from the RCAF list,” he said.
But the commander said he was annoyed by forestry officials constantly accusing his soldiers of allowing illegal loggers into Cambodia with scant evidence to back up their claims.
“These are accusations without clear evidence,” he said. “If we throw water at each other we will all get wet, that’s why we have to find out who committed the crime.”
Platoon 103 commander Yin Chanthy said he did not know the full names of the two soldiers but had ordered them to come in for questioning today.
“I have called the two officers back to the military base on Monday and I will ask them if they opened the border for the nine Vietnamese nationals. But I asked the pair by telephone, and they told me they were not involved,” he said.
Provincial police chief Toch Yon said he did not know the full name of his accused officer, either, but had ordered Chan’s commander to investigate his alleged involvement in letting the loggers into Cambodia.
Vietnamese nationals are often caught illegally logging in eastern Cambodia, and local soldiers and military police are often accused by Forestry Administration officials and NGOs of helping them.
An investigation by the U.S. NGO Forestry Trends last year found that most of Vietnam’s timber imports from Cambodia were illegal.
The Cambodian government put a freeze on all timber exports to Vietnam at the start of a sweep of illegal logging in the eastern province in mid-January amid concerns the illicit exports had gotten out of hand.