Officials on Run After Journalist Reports Threats, Illegal Timber

A reporter in Mondolkiri province who climbed a mango tree to look into a police official’s compound for a rumored stash of illegal timber over the weekend says he was later detained and threatened with a beating.

Doem Soeun, a reporter for the Apsara News Network, accused Suos Vora, a deputy police chief in Keo Seima district, and Mr. Vora’s younger brother, Suos Angkea, a border police official based in the district, of accosting him.

The two police officials have not been seen since Forestry Administration officials searched Mr. Vora’s property and found a stockpile of illegally logged wood, according to Chuy Sokheng, chief of the administration’s Keo Seima division.

Mr. Sokheng said on Tuesday that Mr. Vora and his brother had 30 days to pay a fine for the timber and would face arrest if they failed to produce the money.

Mr. Soeun, the reporter, said he went to Mr. Vora’s compound at about 9 a.m. on Sunday after a local resident told him about the stash of valuable wood inside the deputy police chief’s compound along National Road 76 in Sre Khtum commune.

He said he saw about 20 people, including Vietnamese laborers, loading wood into vehicles and called Mr. Sokheng to intervene.

“I climbed a mango tree to take a photograph, but the Vietnamese workers saw me and started yelling. So I decided to return quickly to my car, but by that time seven people had surrounded my car,” Mr. Soeun said.

He said Mr. Vora and Mr. Angkea threatened to beat him and that Mr. Angkea deleted all of his photographs.

“They prevented me from going anywhere and [Mr. Vora] asked me, ‘Why did you take our picture? To extort money from us?’ I replied that I simply came to report the news…. They detained me for about 1 1/2 hours.”

Only when Forestry Administration officials showed up at about 10:30 a.m. was he freed, Mr. Soeun said.

“I think this was a serious violation of the free press,” he said.

Neither Mr. Vora nor Mr. Angkea could be reached.

The search of Mr. Vora’s property turned up 110 lengths of timber, including pieces of luxury-grade Beng and Thnong, and third-grade Chambak, according to Mr. Sokheng, the local Forestry Administration chief.

Mr. Vora and his brother fled the scene while officials were measuring and confiscating the timber, he said.

“If they do not appear to resolve this issue, we will send the report to the provincial court asking for a warrant to arrest them as well,” he said, adding that court officials were also searching for the two men.

Provincial court spokesman So Sovithya referred questions to Chea Sovannthet, a deputy prosecutor in charge of the case. Mr. Sovannthet could not be reached.

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