‘Journalists’ and Local Residents Face Off in Ratanakkiri

A group of journalists in Ratanakkiri province—licensed as such but of uncertain authenticity—have accused villagers of attacking their cars, while the locals, in turn, have accused them of extortion.

Information Ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng said the ministry was forming a committee to investigate complaints made by seven people registered as reporters who claimed that villagers attacked their cars as they traveled through Veun Sai district on February 1.

Shortly after a small collision with a tractor, their two Toyota Camrys were swarmed by a group of 10 people who emerged from the surrounding forest, according to Chan Sothea, deputy director of the provincial information department. The group set upon the windows with rocks, a hammer and a steel bar as the drivers and passengers fled unharmed into the woods, he said.

“Our officials went to the area…but we couldn’t find the perpetrators,” Mr. Sothea said. “The villagers told us that the journalists always traveled in the area and extorted money from them when they were transporting a little wood to sell for money to support their families and earn a living.”

“The villagers told us that six journalists always collected money from them and gave it to Sok Sovan,” whom Mr. Sothea identified as the leader of the group and head of the publishing company Kampuchea Information. The seven so-called journalists supposedly worked for little-known outlets such as Thngay Nish Center and Khmer Democracy Information.

Extortionists in far-flung provinces masquerading as journalists for irregular periodicals are regularly accused of demanding bribes in exchange for silence over logging.

District police chief Nou Thorng said he was investigating a complaint filed by the group on the day of the attack. Villagers were preparing their own complaint, he said.

Contacted on Thursday, Kampuchea Information’s Mr. Sovan said the group was acting on a tip that a local timber dealer was moving his product on the day of the attack.

Contrary to villagers’ claims, “we did not ask for $200” from the timber transporters, Mr. Sovan said. “We just took photos and walked back to the cars.”

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