Ethnic minority Banong villagers in Mondolkiri province filed a complaint with the provincial court on Friday accusing an RCAF border soldier of threatening to shoot them when they detained illegal loggers from Vietnam who were cutting trees in their area, villagers and rights workers said.
The complaint has been filed against a man known as Mr Proem, a soldier at the No. 7 border post with Vietnam, who allegedly stopped about 30 angry villagers in the jungle in Busra commune on Wednesday, said Khan Channy, one of the Banong villagers present during the incident.
“That border soldier was actively working for Vietnamese loggers illegally logging in Cambodia’s forest,” Ms Channy said by telephone. “Therefore, I lodged a complaint with the thumbprints of fifty local villagers to prosecutor Im Sophan.”
The villagers were part of two groups drawn from 50 local volunteers who ventured into the jungle for two days beginning on Tuesday to investigate illegal logging activities in their commune.
“We are going to give some time to the prosecutor to work on this case,” said Ms Channy. “But if he is ignoring us, we will seek intervention from a higher authority,” she said.
Ms Channy added that Mr Sophan, the prosecutor, had told the villagers on Friday to stay calm and not to talk to the media, apparently out of concern that suspects would be alerted and could flee. Mr Sophan could not be reached for comment.
Sreng Hong, deputy provincial RCAF commander, said by telephone Friday he was unaware of the reported incident involving the villagers and one of his troops.
“No officials under my control have reported this case to me yet,” he said. “I will contact them to find out the truth because we will never allow our officials to commit crimes, especially logging.”
Contacted by telephone, the chief of the No.7 border post, who only gave his name as Mr Mab, denied the incident had occurred and accused the villagers of having ill intentions for venturing into the jungle in the first place.
“In my opinion these villagers entered the jungle to clear land for themselves,” he said, adding that he had never seen Vietnamese citizens entering Cambodia for illegal logging purposes.
Phlang Sin, a Banong villager, reiterated on Friday that he and other Banong villagers had themselves witnessed Mr Sophan, the court prosecutor, and commune chief Ten Nhak arrest four other Vietnamese loggers with two trucks loaded with logs in the O’Toy area. Since, he said, all four of the detained Vietnamese loggers have been released.
“These border police are committing crimes helping Vietnamese loggers to smuggle wood to Vietnam,” Mr Sin added.
Mr Nhak, the commune chief, who denied any arrests were made on Wednesday, changed his story on Friday saying that a truck had been impounded and was being held at the police headquarters in Pech Chreada district.
Chhay Thy, provincial investigator for rights group Adhoc, said he had received photographic evidence of the Banong villagers detaining the Vietnamese loggers before the RCAF soldier threatened them.
“Such photos are sufficient evidence to prove the villagers’ allegation of illegal logging occurring inside the province’s jurisdiction,” Mr Thy said.