Representatives of an ethnic Tompoun community in Ratanakkiri province filed two separate complaints with local authorities last week accusing a group of five environment department officials of extortion after the officials allegedly caught the minority villagers trapping illegally in a wildlife sanctuary and asked for money.
Seven Tompoun villagers from Lumphat district’s Kaleng commune filed the complaints with district authorities on Thursday after they were twice caught trapping animals in the Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary earlier in the week, district Governor Kong Srun said Sunday.
In one complaint, two villagers accuse the five environment department rangers of demanding 300,000 riel, or about $75, Mr. Srun said. In the second complaint, five villagers accuse the same officials of extracting a 600,000 riel ($150) bribe from them.
“Those villagers were wrong, because they were hunting animals in the protected wildlife sanctuary,” Mr. Srun said. “But the environment officials should have given them a ticket, so they wouldn’t face extortion accusations.”
Mr. Srun said that in the complaints, the villagers only provide the given names of two of the officials, whom they identify as Ouen and Khurn, saying he didn’t know the full names of any of the accused. He added that on Thursday, he would question Thin Ngoal, deputy chief of the Lumphat sanctuary, over the complaints.
Mr. Ngoal said Monday that the official named Ouen did not work for him but that the other official, whom he identified as Noeu Khurn, did.
On Sunday, Mr. Ngoal rejected the trappers’ claims that his subordinates were guilty of extortion.
“Our officials did not extort money from those villagers,” he said. “They just required them to pay a fine.”
One of the men who submitted a complaint Thursday, Kyong An, said he and four other villagers were trapping animals in the sanctuary early last week when the five officials approached them with their guns drawn and demanded money.
“Three of the five officials pointed rifles at us and ordered us to drop our machetes and ax,” Mr. An said.
“They asked us to pay 600,000 riel, and we offered to pay 150,000 riel, but they didn’t agree, and confiscated one of our motorbikes,” he said.