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Hun Sen Sacks Top Forestry Official

Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly fired the head of the government’s forestry administration Tuesday, claiming the official proved unable to stop rampant illegal logging in the country.

Ty Sokhun was “no longer capable” of settling the deforestation issue, Hun Sen said in a speech broadcast nationwide from the annual meeting of the Ministry of Agriculture, which oversees the forestry department.

Hun Sen said Tuesday Ty Sokhun had made “grave mistakes” as head of the forestry administration.

The government is currently in the middle of a crackdown on illegal logging, but environmentalists say the sweep has been too little and too late in coming.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Tuesday authorities were working to “clear out” officials involved in deforestation.

“The action will be taken nationwide,” he said. “If not we cannot resolve [illegal logging].”

In a 2007 report, the environmental watchdog Global Witness singled out Ty Sokhun and other forestry and agriculture officials, as it accused the country’s elites, many of them close to Hun Sen, of exploiting timber resources.

The country lost as much as $2 billion in timber resources between 1993 and 2001, the group said, in report that was later banned by the government.

Meanwhile, the crackdown continues. Chhum Socheat, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, which is heading the campaign, said military forces would first sweep border areas near Thailand and Vietnam, seeking to arrest criminal organizers.