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Eight arrested in forestry crime busts

Pech Sotheary / Khmer Times Share:
The suspects are arrested for encroaching on nearly seven hectares of forest land in Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary. Ministry of Environment

Eight suspects were sent by officials of the Kratie Provincial Environment Department to the provincial court over separate cases of forest encroachment in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary.

Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said yesterday Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary rangers last week during their patrol arrested six suspects who were found encroaching on about four hectares of forest land. Two more suspects were arrested in a nearby area, both of whom were found clearing three hectares of forest land.

In the two crackdown operations, the rangers confiscated several pieces of evidence, including six motorcycles, eight long-handled knives, three axes, one chainsaw, one hoe and three mobile phones, among others.

“As of today [yesterday], they have already been sent to court for further legal action,” said Mr Pheaktra, who stressed that no one has the right to occupy, buy or sell land in protected areas.

Mr Pheaktra also called on all residents to immediately stop forestry crimes such as land clearing, razing and encroachment. He said offenders can either return protected land areas to the Environment Ministry or face legal action.

Kratie Provincial Court deputy prosecutor Chea Sopheak, who is working on the case, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

However, in an update yesterday evening, Mr Pheaktra told Khmer Times: “Three of the suspects, who were identified as the ringleaders, were charged by the court and sent to pre-trial detention for ‘illegal occupation of state-protected land’. The other five were released after being educated by the authorities.”

The Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary – which covers more than 430,000 hectares of land spanning the provinces of Kampong Thom, Kratie, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear – was designated as a protected area in 2016.

A recent report from the Ministry of Environment said during this year’s first quarter, rangers have found 399 cases of illegal logging, land encroachment and poaching. Of these, 32 have been sent to court while nearly 100 suspects involved in 42 other cases were merely educated and asked to sign a contract promising not to commit the same offence again.

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