A mob of angry villagers in Kratie province strong-armed military police on Sunday into returning six trucks that had been seized earlier in the day for transporting illegal wood, according to local officials.
Chhum Chhoy, chief of Chet Borei district’s Korleap commune, said on Monday that a team of military police and Forestry Administration officers stopped the six-truck convoy at about 3 a.m. He said they had found about 10 tree stumps of luxury-grade Thnong wood in each and ordered the drivers to take the wood to the district military police station.
The commune chief said the stumps had been dug up by local villagers hoping to sell them to the area’s furniture shops.
After hearing that the stumps had been seized, about 50 of them headed to the police station to demand the return of the wood and the trucks, he said. The chief said he went along hoping to keep the situation from turning violent.
With the wood already unloaded, Mr. Chhoy said, “the people climbed aboard the trucks and drove away.”
Mr. Chhoy said he did not believe the villagers had done anything wrong.
“They don’t have any work besides this to support themselves,” he said. “The local people never cut down healthy trees. They just collect the wood that’s already been cut down and left in the forest.”
District military police chief Im Chetra confirmed that the six trucks had been seized for transporting illegal wood and that the villagers had taken them back. He said he let the trucks and the drivers go for fear of sparking a clash.
“If we had tried to stop the trucks, there would have been violence,” he said.
Mr. Chetra said he had no plans to make any arrests and hung up.
In a similar but unrelated incident in Kratie’s Prek Prasap district in August, villagers stormed a military police station and retrieved two truckloads of wood that had been seized for not having the necessary permits. Authorities made no arrests on that occasion, either.