Four people posing as environmental NGO workers and military police were arrested in Mondolkiri province’s Keo Seima district on Saturday while trying to extort money from villagers cutting down trees by threatening to call authorities, police said Monday.
Pin Sino, 47, and Phan Kosal, 30, who told their victims they worked for an NGO named Forest Protection and Natural Resources Development, were apprehended alongside Sim Touch, 46, and Chin Kea, 52, who acted as their guides, said Sum Sorphoan, chief of the provincial police’s minor crimes bureau.
“The four people were arrested on the 29th [of August] by soldiers at about 8:40 a.m. while they were extorting money from the villagers cutting down wood to build their houses, and then they were handed to our police on the 30th,” he said.
Mr. Sorphoan said Mr. Sino and Mr. Kosal, the leaders of the operation, were arrested for extortion, while the two guides were arrested for conspiracy to extort money from villagers.
“They confessed that they extorted money from villagers a few times, including villagers carrying wood by motorbike and carts, and they sometimes extorted about 200,000 to 300,000 riel [$50 to $75],” he said. “If the villagers agreed to pay them, they would let them go, but if they did not pay the money, they would call the police, the military police or the Forest Administration to arrest them and confiscate their wood.”
“Chin Kea claimed [he and Mr. Touch] worked for the military police,” Mr. Sorphoan said, adding that 236,200 riel was seized from the group, and that the four were sent to the Mondolkiri Provincial Court on Monday afternoon.
Court officials could not be reached Monday.
Mondolkiri’s Keo Seima district, which lies on the border with Vietnam, is a hotbed of large-scale wood smuggling. In June, two groups of armed soldiers faced off over an illegal timber haul authorities said was destined for Vietnam.