The Kratie provincial government yesterday denied reports that the provincial forestry chief was being removed from his position following allegations that he was colluding with illegal timber traders.
Over the past few weeks, local media reports in the province have accused chief of the Kratie Forestry Administration Bouy Ratana of colluding with timber traders by taking bribes to allow them to log wood illegally. Yesterday, it was revealed that Mr Ratana was to lose his position.
Contacted by phone yesterday, Kratie provincial governor Sar Chamrong said that Mr Ratana was not being fired, or demoted, but rather reassigned.
Mr Chamrong declined to discuss the allegations of collusion and said that Mr Ratana’s reassignment was “normal procedure”, and not linked to the accusations made in local media reports.
“I would like to give a short answer that there is no removal from his position, it is just that he was moved from one district to another,” said Mr Chamrong, declining to give further details.
“The change is a normal,” he added. “There is no reason behind it.”
Mr Chamrong then accused the Khmer Times of colluding with other media organisations to draw inaccurate conclusions.
“There have been four newspapers asking me the same question today,” he said.
“Why do you co-operate to ask me like that? What are the benefits from it? It seems like there is a setup from all these media organisations to inquire about this story.”
Pen Bonnar, a senior investigator at rights group Adhoc, said that Mr Ratana’s reassignment was likely due to the accuracy of the local media reports of his collusion with illegal timber traders.
Mr Bonnar added that such an administrative punishment is not sufficient and that Mr Ratana should face criminal charges.
“It is not enough because it is a criminal case and it cannot be solved by an administrative penalty,” he said. “Forestry crimes committed by forestry officials are already systemic and only proper law enforcement can stop them.”
Mr Ratana could not be reached for comment.