A deputy district governor in Mondulkiri province’s Koh Nhek district yesterday denied allegations that he tried to extort villagers during a timber crackdown last week, while an environmental official filed a criminal complaint against the villagers.
Last week, some 200 ethnic Phnong villagers in the district launched a protest following an armed seizure of timber, accusing authorities of demanding money in exchange for the return of the lumber and firing a warning shot during the crackdown.
A villager representative at the time insisted officials had tried to extort the villagers and had searched homes without a warrant. A police official quoted then confirmed both the warning shot, and that one trader had paid $250 and been allowed to keep his wood.
But Deputy Governor Nut Boeun, who led the crackdown, yesterday denied any wrongdoing.“The allegation is not true. It is an illegal allegation of the illegal timber traders . . . they are not innocent people,” Boeun said.
In a police report filed after the incident, Boeun acknowledged the warning shot but maintained it was warranted.
“Before the wildlife sanctuary forces arrived, [alleged timber trader] Khun Hoeun and seven to eight of his accomplices grabbed one soldier and tried to take his weapon while some of them threw the stones,” the January 27 report reads.
“Because the situation was uncontrollable, one soldier shot into the sky once and they unhanded the soldier,” the report continues.
The statement claims authorities found 100 planks of illegal timber, presumably destined to be trafficked to Vietnam, at the home of Hoeun. Boeun then called authorities from the Sre Pok Wildlife Sanctuary, because the village was within the protected zone.
Din Bun Thoeun, director of the Sre Pok Wildlife Sanctuary, said he filed a criminal complaint against Hoeun on Tuesday for obstructing officials from enforcing the law.
“Khun Hoeun is the initiator, and he tried to stop the officials from fulfilling their tasks . . . The court will interrogate him,” Thoeun said.
Thoeun also claimed that the protesting villagers tried to prevent his men from leaving the area with the confiscated timber, constructing a roadblock and continuing to throw rocks.
A member of the community, who wish to remain anonymous, maintained yesterday that none of the villagers were responsible for the logging, instead maintaining it was Vietnamese traders coming from across the border.
Sok Rotha, Mondulkiri provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the organisation received a complaint from the villagers on Tuesday. Rotha said he would follow up with authorities to find a solution.
“The community accused the deputy governor of intimidation, illegally seizing the property, extortion,” he said, relaying a claim by the villagers that the wood was not illegal.