M’kiri Minority Villagers Summoned in Vietnam Logging Case

Mondolkiri Provincial Court has summoned four villagers to appear for questioning on Thursday over the complaint they filed last month accusing an RCAF soldier of stopping them from detaining Vietnamese illegal loggers, a court official said yesterday.

The ethnic Banong villagers on Jan 15 filed a complaint with the court against a soldier known as Mr Proem who is stationed at the No 8 border post with Vietnam. They claim the rifle-armed Mr Proem, together with a few young Cambodian workers, threatened a group of about 30 villagers that tried to detain five Vietnamese loggers on Jan 13 in Pech Chreada district’s Busra commune.

“Before summoning the defendant, I need to summon the complainant for questioning to get the detailed information regarding their allegations,” provincial court prosecutor Im Sophan said. “This Thursday, the four villagers can give us evidence and sufficient documents to prove their claim,” he said.

He added that he did not know when the soldier would be summoned for questioning.

Khan Channy, one of the four summoned villagers, said yesterday that she wants to see Mr Proem punished.

“I hope the court will prosecute the bad soldiers who have committed crimes, especially whoever allows those of other nationalities to illegally log on Cambodian soil,” she said.

The accused soldier, Mr Proem, could not be reached for comment yesterday. But provincial RCAF commander Colonel Meas Nak said his subordinate had done nothing wrong.

“Oh, I already investigated this case,” Mr Nak said when reached by phone yesterday. “I found no guilt for my soldier.”

Mr Proem’s direct superior, the chief of the border post who only gave his name as Mab, was more forceful in his response when reached yesterday.

“I have told you a dozen times that my soldier has not done anything wrong,” Mr Mab said. “These people [local ethnic Banong villagers] want the forest for land and they are defaming us [because we] prevent them from clearing forest.”

The group of 30 villagers who stumbled on the illegal loggers on Jan 13 was one of two parties drawn from Banong volunteers who say they ventured into the jungle to investigate signs of illegal logging in their commune.

Plans for another such expedition have stalled because district governor Nuon Saran has not given his approval, although the necessary paperwork has been signed by commune chief Teng Nhak, according to Ms Channy. Villagers also had the endorsement of Mr Nhak on their first forest monitoring trip, but now they want additional backing, she explained.

“A denial to endorse a permission letter proves that our ethnic minority villagers who want to go into the jungle [to protect the forest] are prohibited,” she said. “Especially, the district authority said we are indigenous people and have no rights to form a community to own the forest.”

The district governor, Mr Saran, could not be reached for comment yesterday, while the commune chief, Mr Nhak, would only confirm that he “agreed for a second venture to combat illegal logging.”


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