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Illegal Logging Continues in Forests of Pursat and Battambang Provinces

Logging across two of the country's forested northwestern provinces continues unabated, often with collusion from forestry administration officials, a rights group said Monday.

Ou Vireak, head of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights, said his office had received reports of illegal logging from residents in Pursat and Battambang provinces.

A group that monitors conflict and resources, Global Witness, has said Cambodia's illegal logging is undertaken by a "kleptocratic elite" with close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen and his family.

The still-lucrative trade has turned people in these provinces into "logging merchants," Ou Vireak told VOA Khmer.

During a human rights forum in Bakan district, Pursat, local residents told Ou Vireak their forests were nearly gone.

Residents reported logs being hauled away from the forests in cars, taxis and other vehicles, without license plates, driven by men in plain clothes.

"The people did not say the that the forestry administration officials are the ones who practice illegal logging, but that it is possible some of the administration officials condone it," CCHR investigator In Kong Chin said. "When the ministry's inspectors go to check, the people in charge give signals to those transporting the logs, to halt temporarily."

Chea Sam Ang, deputy director of the Forestry Administration, said authorities worked "every day" to find ways of controlling illegal logging.

"We do not tolerate anything," he said, adding that forestry officials in Bakan district, as in others, were in place to protect the trees, not log them.