Seven employees of an environmental NGO in Pursat were arrested on Saturday for allegedly trying to extort $40 from villagers cutting a tree stump in the province’s Krakor district—the latest in a string of extortion attempts by the same organization, police said on Sunday.
Two local residents filed a complaint after the men seized their chainsaw and demanded money to return it, said district police chief Em Run.
“The two villagers are not timber traders. They were cutting the stump to clear their farmland,” he said.
The seven accused—Keo Sarun, 68, Sok Roeun, 37, Chea Sak, 36, Sak Thau, 37, Lai Saroeun, 49, Sok Sokhom, 56, and Sam Sarath, 48—from Krakor district and Kompong Chhnang’s Boribor district, claimed to work for an NGO called the Cooperative Protector of Natural Resource Organization, based in Pursat, he added.
While the organization has had an office in the district for some time, Mr. Run was unsure if it was a properly registered NGO.
The latest extortion attempt happened on Saturday morning, when the seven were driving through the district and saw two villagers cutting a stump in Ansar Chambak commune. They stopped, seized their chainsaw and demanded $40 for its return, Mr. Run said.
The villagers did not pay and the men left with the chainsaw, he said, adding that the victims, Um Ron, 57 and Bith Boeu, 48, later filed a complaint with police.
“I think that the two villagers did wrong because they used a chainsaw to cut wood,” he said. “But the environmental staffers should confiscate the chainsaw from the villagers and give it to our authorities to take action in accordance with the law.”
Mo Lida, chief of the province’s minor crimes bureau, said that four of the seven men were sent to court on Sunday to be questioned by deputy prosecutor Long Cheap, and three more would be sent today. None had been charged as of on Sunday afternoon, he added.
This was not the first time that employees of the NGO had demanded money from locals who support their families by logging and transporting wood, he added.
“They have extorted money from the villagers for a long time, but we have never received a complaint.”