Forestry Activists Claim to Have Received Threats From Soldiers

A group of more than 40 activists embroiled in a dispute with illegal loggers in Kratie province’s Ch­h­long district said yesterday that they would continue to conduct patrols of the forest despite alleged threats being made against them by RCAF soldiers.

Chut Wutty, director of the Na­tural Resource Protection Group, said activists monitoring the forest for illegal logging activity have often been intimidated and threatened by armed RCAF soldiers. The latest in­cident occurred earlier this month af­ter the activists confiscated wood be­lieved to have been illegally felled.

Activists said that on Aug 5, they caught RCAF soldier Mom Rath with 10 cubic meters of wood during a routine patrol in Kompong Damrei commune. They said Mr Rath, who was in uniform and carrying a rifle, then told the villagers not to seize the timber.

“This guy has been involved with illegal logging for more than two decades,” Mr Wutty claimed.

Mr Rath could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Colonel Som Han, deputy commander of RCAF’s provincial sub-re­­gion, dismissed the activists’ account and said that no soldiers in the pro­vince were involved in illegal logging.

“Our military soldiers have been obeying [Prime Minister Hun Sen’s] orders not to commit forest crimes,” Col Han said.

But forestry activist Teng Ran, 42, said a photograph had been taken of Mr Rath “sitting on a pile of cut logs holding a rifle in the forest.”

Mr Ran said Mr Rath’s logs were mysteriously set on fire after they were confiscated, but that com­mune authorities and villagers were able to extinguish the flames.

Mr Ran said his house was soon after burned to the ground, along with about 1,000 of his rubber trees.

“Villagers are scared to patrol, because we believe it’s an intimidation message to stop us opposing forest crimes,” Mr Ran said, adding that police had found no suspects involved with the torching of his property.

Commune chief Khuon Khoeun said the police “don’t have enough incriminating evidence” linking Mr Rath to illegal logging.


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