A group of villagers in Mondolkiri province filed a lawsuit this week against three local border police officers and a forestry official accusing them of allowing Vietnamese loggers to sneak across the nearby border and illegally log the forests they depend on for a living.
Khut Chanra said on Thursday that his community filed the suit with the provincial court on Tuesday and identified the targets of their complaint as police officers Prak Phearom, In Sitra and Keo Sopheap—who each head a separate checkpoint along Pech Chreada district’s border with Vietnam—and Kong Vireak, head of the Forestry Administration’s Pech Chreada division.
Mr. Chanra said the complaint followed a forest patrol by the community on the night of December 31 during which they came across a group of Vietnamese men logging trees about 20 km inside Cambodia’s border.
“At about 9 p.m., we met about 10 Vietnamese people hiding in the forest,” he said. “We chased them, but they shot into the air three times and fled into the deep forest. We could not catch them because it was too dark.”
He said the loggers left behind their timber, two trucks, four chainsaws and a motorbike, all of which they brought to the court on Wednesday as part of the complaint that they filed with deputy prosecutor Chea Sovanthet.
Mr. Chanra said the community had no hard evidence against the official or officers they were suing, but insisted that loggers could not possibly operate without their collusion.
“They must be responsible for this. If they aren’t colluding with the Vietnamese illegal loggers, how could those people come here freely to destroy our forest?” he said.
“The border police and Forestry Administration are in charge of that area, so they should know about the illegal Vietnamese loggers.”
Mr. Sovanthet could not be reached for comment. Another deputy prosecutor, So Sovidyea, said he saw the villagers bringing the trucks and chainsaws to the court on Wednesday.
The accused police officers could not be reached, either. But their boss, provincial police chief Nhem Vanny, said he knew of the complaint against his men and had ordered an internal investigation into the allegations.
“They are police officers; they have a duty to protect the people,” he said. “If we find that they made mistakes, we will not forgive them. We will not protect bad people, but we want the community to provide evidence and witnesses.”
Mr. Vireak could not be reached, either. But the the deputy director of the Forestry Administration’s Mondolkiri cantonment, Sarou Rathana, said he, too, knew of the court complaint and would investigate.