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  Yahoo News 24 Nov 06
Eight officials sentenced for illegal logging in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Eight people, including a former provincial governor, have been sentenced to up to 17 years in prison over a huge illegal logging scandal that saw tons of timber taken from a Cambodian national forest.

Former Ratanakkiri province governor Kham Khoeun was sentenced to 17 years in absentia Thursday for allowing a Vietnamese company to log large swathes of northeast Cambodia's Virachey National Park, judge Ke Sakhan told AFP.

Kham Khoeun has gone into hiding and is believed to be out of the country. Five of the other seven defendants, including military officers, police officials and forest rangers, were also absent but received sentences of 13 to 15 years. Of the two present in court, only one was detained to serve a 13-year sentence while the other had his two-year sentence suspended, court officials said.

Conservationists estimate that more than 5,000 hectares of parkland have been destroyed by the operation, and six of those convicted were ordered to pay a total of 15 million dollars for destroying the forest, the judge said.

In July, 11 people were also given stiff prison terms over the enormous logging scandal, although seven of them had not been detained and remain free.

Illegal logging remains a major environmental hazard in Cambodia, with vast tracts of forest coming under increasing threat since the country's civil war ended in 1998.

Only 30 percent of Cambodia remains forested, down from 70 percent in the early 1970s, environment officials say.

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