Following a two-hour low-speed boat chase down the Mekong River in Kandal province early Thursday morning, some 100 angry villagers led by a local opposition official detained five Vietnamese nationals they say have been using illegal fishing techniques for the past three months.
The Vietnamese men, whom the villagers handed over to Fisheries Administration officials after seizing their boats and burning their nets, were subsequently released, according to local authorities.
“This morning, after three months of investigation, about 100 villagers decided to stop the illegal fishermen themselves,” said Moek Chea, the CNRP deputy chief of Koki Thom commune in Kien Svay district, who agreed to help the locals track down the Vietnamese men.
“Villagers in three boats chased the fishermen, while other villagers followed along the riverbank,” Mr. Chea said, adding that the pursuers tailed the Vietnamese men, who were in two boats, from about 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.
Mr. Chea said that for the past three months, residents of his commune have been trying to catch the men, who are known to use electrified poles and nets with mesh that is too fine, threatening fish stocks in the area.
When the villagers caught the fishermen Thursday, he said, their frustration got the better of them.
“When the villagers got hold of their nets, police tried to stop them from burning them, but they were so angry that they burned them anyway,” he said, adding that the Vietnamese men were handed over to district fisheries officials—who then promptly released them.
“I am disappointed that the district fisheries office released the Vietnamese fishermen without punishment,” Mr. Chea said.
Ros Chantha, police chief in neighboring Loeuk Dek district, where the chase ended, confirmed that the men were released.
“We were at the scene, but this case is the responsibility of Mr. Meas Sann,” Mr. Chantha said, referring to the chief of the Fisheries Administration in the district. He declined to comment further.
Mr. Sann could not be reached.
Oun Na, Kompong Phnom commune police chief, said that when he heard the villagers had detained the Vietnamese men, he sent his subordinates to the scene to maintain order.
“Our police had to protect the fishermen. We were afraid that the locals would hurt them for what they did,” he said.