A Kratie province villager beaten by an RCAF soldier Thursday said he will return home today after recovering in a Phnom Penh hospital from an attack that villagers claim was part of a widespread campaign of harassment against community forestry activists.
Prak Nhim, from Thmor Halveal commune, said his attack, in which soldier Chan Meng knocked him unconscious with a drinking glass, was the most serious of repeated attempts by soldiers to intimidate villagers.
“I feel scared that other villagers and my family will be attacked again by RCAF officials, because they continue to threaten us though the people are innocent,” Prak Nhim said Sunday.
The threats intensified after members of a local community forestry group confiscated several chain saws in a crackdown on illegal logging inside Snuol Wildlife Sanctuary on Nov 22, he and other villagers said.
Community forestry activist leader Mom Sakhim, from neighboring Khsim commune, said soldiers began threatening villagers the day they confiscated the chain saws. Soldiers threatened to kill her and any other villager who tried to confiscate chain saws or crack down on illegal logging, she said.
“They also said they will shoot villagers and community leaders in the legs,” Mom Sakhim said.
The harassment has left villagers terrified and reluctant to continue to fight illegal logging in the area, she said.
Snuol district Deputy Governor Sum Chuon said he had heard reports of harassment before the attack but that threats ceased in the aftermath.
He also played down the significance of the soldier’s actions, saying the soldier and the victim were both drunk at the time and acting aggressively.
“If the RCAF soldier was really a bad guy, he would have used his gun to shoot the villager to death, but instead he only wanted to threaten the villager,” he said.
General Choeun Sovantha, commander of the military region that includes Kratie province, said that he was unaware of the incident and declined to comment Sunday.
A report released earlier this month by forestry watchdog Global Witness named RCAF officials as major players in Cambodia’s illegal logging industry, with poor soldiers forming the base of a patronage system that funnels the profits into the pockets of senior commanders.
“Without a radical change in approach, Cambodia will continue to bear the burden of a military whose core capacity is the theft of the country’s natural resources, rather than protection of its borders,” Global Witness said in the report.