Police in Kompong Thom province arrested 11 people—eight who claimed to be journalists and three who said they were environmental NGO directors—on Sunday for extorting money from truck drivers transporting goods in Prasat Balaing district, officials said Monday.
Phal Phoeun, deputy district police chief, said his authorities detained the NGO workers at around 1 p.m. and the group of reporters three hours later as they were attempting to extort money from two trucks.
“The eight journalists have media passes for their newspapers, but we are not sure they are really working for the media organizations,” Mr. Phoeun said.
“We arrested the 11 people in separate places…following complaints from people because they extorted money from them when they were transporting [wood],” he said.
The group was well known for extorting truck drivers transporting wood and other products in the area, Mr. Phoeun said, adding that police had recently received 15 letters of complaint and numerous calls from disgruntled drivers.
Ke Khannara, deputy provincial police chief, said the group was being questioned at the police station over claims they were demanding between 100,000 riel (about $25) and 500,000 riel (about $125) to allow trucks to pass. The arrests were ordered by provincial court prosecutor Ith Sothea, he added.
“We arrested the 11 people because they stopped the trucks and extorted between 100,000 riel to 500,000 riel from people when they transported non-luxury wood for building their houses,” Mr. Khannara said.
“Sometimes they confiscated telephones from the truck owners if they didn’t have money for them,” he added.
Mr. Khannara said the 15 drivers who had filed complaints had all received permission to transport wood, watermelons and cassava from provincial authorities, and that the group of supposed journalists and NGO workers had been warned to stop taking money from them.
“We educated those people several times that they should not do that, because [the drivers] received permission for transportation, but they did not change their actions so that’s why the court prosecutor, Ith Sothea, ordered our authorities to follow this procedure,” he said.
Mr. Khannara said he was positive that the drivers were not transporting illegally logged timber.
“I am sure the villagers are not logging trees. If they cut the trees illegally, officials from the Forestry Administration working in the forest would arrest them,” he said.
Mr. Phoeun named the arrested reporters as Seuk Socheat, 48; Khut Dina, 48; Soeun Sen, 48; Thoun Mao, 40; Lek Vuthy, 45; and Thorn Bunleang, 43, all from a newspaper called Seven January Victory, while Sem Sambath, 44, and Pov Pros, 45, held passes for the Cambodia Watchdog Community newspaper.
The arrested NGO workers all had documents saying they were the heads of different environmental organizations, Mr. Phoeun said. Ho Hoeun, 55, heads an organization called the Forestry and Natural Resources Conservation Organization; Roth Tha, 52, runs the Environment and Natural Resources Organization and Theng Phal, 28, heads the Natural Resources Protection and Environment Organization, he said.