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Two Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary officials questioned about illegal land clearing

Chea Hean, director of the Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organization, poses for a photograph during an inspection for illegal timber transportation last month in Kampong Speu province. Two officials of the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary in Kampong Speu were questioned in court on Wednesday on illegal forest clearing charges. Supplied
Chea Hean, director of the Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organization, poses for a photograph during an inspection for illegal timber transportation last month in Kampong Speu province. Two officials of the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary in Kampong Speu were questioned in court on Wednesday on illegal forest clearing charges. Supplied

Two Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary officials questioned about illegal land clearing

The director of Kampong Speu’s Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary and his predecessor were questioned in court on Wednesday over illegal forestland clearing charges in a case dating back to 2013.

Khorn Sokhun, the sanctuary’s director, and former director Chhun Chhie Heng, who is now an office chief at the Kampong Speu Environment Department, have been charged with “malicious denunciation and forestland clearing and grabbing [land] for private ownership”.

Chea Hean, director of the Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organization, who filed a lawsuit against 241 officials – including Sokhun and Chhie Heng – in 2013, said both men were questioned by Investigating Judge Toung Putheara, “who is taking legal action on my lawsuit”.

Hean, who wasn’t allowed to be present during the questioning, said he met with the judge after the court proceedings.

He said the judge also plans to summons others for questioning, and that a trial could start in the next three months. Putheara declined to comment.

Khlot Pich, the lawyer representing the pair, confirmed the duo appeared in court Wednesday. “It is the procedure of the court,” he said. “I do not know whether the accusations are true or not.”

The charges against Sokhun and Chhie Heng stem from Hean’s lawsuit, which he filed after he said he was falsely accused in 2010 of having cleared 100 hectares of forestland inside the sanctuary. In fact, he maintains the land was cleared by Sokhun and Chhie Heng.