At least 50 angry villagers armed with bamboo poles and knives confronted forestry officials and military police who confiscated oxcarts hauling illegally-logged timber in Kompong Speu province, a provincial police official said Monday.
The confrontation erupted after some 17 officials, including provincial environmental officials, military police and forestry officials, who work with the NGO Conservation International, confiscated seven oxcarts loaded with timber in Oral district’s Trapaing Chou commune on Thursday. The wood had been illegally cut in the Oral Wildlife Sanctuary, said Meach Samoeun, Kompong Speu deputy provincial police chief.
At around 10 pm on Friday, villagers carrying weapons gathered in the commune and demanded that officials return the timber and their oxcarts, Meach Samoeun said. “The villagers carried sticks and knives,” he said.
During the confrontation, military police shot at the ground, and a ricocheted bullet struck a 30-year-old villager known as Kroeun, officials said. One member of the military police was also injured, Meach Samoeun said. He did not elaborate on the seriousness of the officer’s injury.
The conflict ended with the villagers taking back the timber and the oxcarts, he said.
Soeung Bunthoeurn, Kompong Speu’s environmental department director, confirmed the injuries, but said officials are still investigating.
Conservation International has been collaborating with Fauna and Flora International, which works with the Ministry of Environment to manage Oral Wildlife Sanctuary, to crack down on illegal logging in the area.
Officials from both organizations said they could not immediately comment and that they were preparing a statement, which they expected to release today.
Mike Appleton of FFI confirmed there was an incident Friday night, adding that, “there were a series of incidents around Oral over the weekend.”
Mike Davis of forestry watchdog Global Witness said Monday that Trapaing Chou commune is reputed to be a hub for illegal timber flowing out of the Oral Wildlife Sanctuary.