Village leader confesses to illegal logging allowances in Siem Reap

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The village chief and 10 villagers were involved in the crime in Skun village, Tbeng commune. Photo supplied

Banteay Srei district governor Khim Finan has issued fines of 12 million riel ($3,000) to 10 villages and a formal warning to a village chief for illegal logging in Skun village, Tbeng commune, Banteay Srei district, Siem Reap province.

The move was taken after Finan visited the flooded forest and it became apparent the village chief and 10 villagers were involved in the crime.

Finan told The Post on Monday that he had also required the Skun village chief, Khy Sokhonn, to write a letter of confession over failing to report the 6ha flooded forest land clearing in the local area he was in control of.

He said the 10 others who plundered the flooded land were required to sign the agreement to cease logging and return the land to the state.

The 10 now have to pay the 12 million riel deforestation charge as stated by the forest administration law by February 22. The money will then be returned to the community in Skun village in a bid to restore the flooded forest.

“The first culprit was the official in Skun village who did not report it, despite the logging activities taking place over a week in the area under his control.

“It wasn’t until the villagers lost trust in him, that they decided to report it directly to me. I have asked the village chief to issue a letter of acknowledgement for his mistake and for failing to do his job properly.

“The letter will form the basis for the commune council to review his role according to the law and be kept on record if there are any further mistakes in the future.

“For all subsequent offences in this district from today onwards, the district administration will pursue strict legal action regardless of the people or officials involved in a crime,” Finan said.

On February 12, Sokhonn wrote a letter to Finan, in which he pleaded guilty in failing to report an offence. He admitted that earlier in February, he allowed Kham Hoeun and his associates to enter flooded forests illegally, occupy the land, and infringe on the natural forest, a vital resource in the district.

“I fully admit that I have neglected to monitor this incident and from this day on, I promise to report offences, obey the law, and serve the people with the utmost responsibility,” Sokhonn wrote.

Sokhonn could not be reached for further comment.

The provincial Adhoc human rights coordinator, Chan Chamroeun, expressed support for the move by the authorities. However, he urged the implementation of the law to be transparent and fair.

He said in Siem Reap as a whole, there were many land grab cases and most of those involved were high-ranking officials and the wealthy.

“In Siem Reap, it is not only the village chief in question, but it is also other powerful people who encroach on state land,” he said.

“The penalty on the people should be proportional. If the case is small, the perpetrator should be warned or made to sign contracts to cease their activities. Issuing fines to poor people will not resolve the issue and just push them further into poverty,” Chamroeun said.