R’kiri Villagers Clash With Police Over Illegally Logged Wood

Villagers destroyed two vehicles and wounded one police officer in Ratanakkiri province Friday during a confrontation with authorities at­tempting to confiscate illegally logged wood, officials said Monday.

Carrying long knives and axes, the roughly 80 villagers drove back more than 10 officials from the provincial forestry administration as well as a mix of police, military poli­ce and local government officials from seizing the illegally logged wood.

Ratanakkiri provincial forestry Director You Kanvimean said the pile of high-priced timber cut from rare and protected trees was found in Yatung commune’s village 10 in O’Yadaw district. He declined to specify the type of tree from which the wood came, the amount logged or its estimated value.

“It is not the first time we have been confronted by logging smugglers. But it was the worst time,” he said by telephone.

He said a district police officer suffered minor injuries from a beating during the afternoon clash, and a pickup truck and a homemade trailer, which were to be used to transport the wood once it was confiscated, were completely destroy­ed.

Authorities suspect that smugglers pay the villagers for permission to cut down protected trees or that the residents themselves fell the trees and then sell the timber, Mr Kanvimean said.

Yatung commune chief Yoeurn Chou confirmed the incident but said that he was not aware of the villagers’ motivation for the attack or who logged the timber. “I am not clear on whether villagers cut down the trees for smuggling or for constructing homes,” he said.

Mr Kanvimean declined to say whether he would bring the case to court against the villagers.

“Provincial authorities and our officials are working on this issue because we believe there is somebody behind villagers in cutting down the luxury wood,” he said.

Pen Bonnar, Adhoc provincial coordinator, said some local residents have turned to illegal logging and smuggling the goods to nearby Vietnam because the practice is lucrative and seldom punished.

“Local villagers are wrong in cutting down the luxury woods,” he said, adding that village 10 was once known for its strong stance against deforestation.

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