Dozens of villagers in Kratie province stormed a Forestry Administration division on Sunday to recover three small tractors that officials said had been seized for carrying illegally logged luxury wood.
A villager involved in the raid claimed they had only taken matters into their own hands after officials sought more than $6,000 for the vehicles’ return.
Military police had stopped the three tractors carrying 3.55 cubic meters of Thnong wood on Thursday evening and arrested three Vietnamese men, while the three drivers escaped on foot, said Seng Sichandaron, chief of O’Krieng Forestry Administration division. The tractors and wood were locked away in the division’s headquarters.
On Sunday, about 90 locals stormed the building and retrieved the vehicles by force, he said. “We kept two officials and three local police there to guard the trucks, but they didn’t dare stop those people because our officials were afraid of violence happening,” he said.
Chhin Yon, 32, one of the villagers who helped retake the tractors, said the decision was only made once officials attempted to extort a large sum of cash from about a dozen villagers, including other truck drivers, who had initially approached them.
“The truck drivers agreed to pay 200,000 riel [about $50] for the three trucks, but the Forestry Administration refused because they wanted 25 million riel [about $6,250],” Mr. Yon said. “The truck drivers were angry and they brought about 90 villagers.”
Mr. Yon said the villagers had initially moved the wood from Mondolkiri province to Kratie’s O’Krieng district, where the three Vietnamese men intended to take it across the border.
Tuth We Need, deputy provincial court prosecutor, said the Vietnamese nationals—Ngueang Yaov Teang, 36, Dak Van Tung, 28, and Le Van Naing, 22—were charged with crimes including transporting wood without permission and were sent to prison to await trial.
There was no plan to file a complaint against the villagers who seized the tractors, he said, adding that “the court could consider it later.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified a deputy court prosecutor in Kratie province involved in the case against three vietnamese nationals charged with illegally transporting wood. His name is Tuth We Need, not Tuth Vynith.