Ethnic minority villagers in Mondolkiri province claimed yesterday they had attempted to arrest illegal loggers from neighboring Vietnam but were prevented from doing so by Cambodian soldiers.
Busra commune chief Ten Nhak denied these claims while provincial RCAF commander Meas Nak declined to comment.
According to Khan Channy, one of the Banong villagers present during the alleged incident, five Vietnamese men were briefly held Wednesday by nearly 30 angry villagers in the jungle in Busra commune after the men were allegedly found clearing trees to make a path to transport illegally cut timber.
“While we stopped and held [the five men] as well as a tractor to stop them from leaving the jungle, an RCAF border soldier with a long rifle appeared accompanied by a few young Cambodian workers,” Ms Channy said by telephone yesterday.
“He intimidated us, threatening to shoot dead community members who dared to block those loggers and saying we are ethnic minority and have no rights or power to stop them,” she said of the ethnically Khmer soldier.
The threatened villagers were the second group drawn from 50 local volunteers who ventured into the jungle for two days beginning on Tuesday to investigate traces of illegal logging in their commune, she added.
When asked yesterday about the reported confrontation, Mr Nak, the RCAF provincial commander in Mondolkiri, referred questions to local authorities.
According to Phlang Sin, a Banong villager, the second group of Banong villagers saw four Vietnamese men and two trucks loaded with logs stopped at the Cambodian military border post in the O’Toy area on Wednesday.
However, a group of officials led by Mondolkiri Provincial Court Prosecutor Im Sophan, and including Busra commune chief Ten Nhak, stopped the villagers from approaching the illegal loggers, Mr Sin said.
“I’ve received information that the four [detained loggers] have been released this morning,” Mr Sin said yesterday, explaining that he went to the border post and did not see the men, and that border post officials said they had been released.
“I feel very discouraged because we have been trying to stop deforestation from logging but those Vietnamese loggers have been released without punishment,” he said.
Mr Sophan, the prosecutor, said he was too busy to talk yesterday, but Mr Nhak, the commune chief, contradicted Mr Sin’s account, saying he and the group of officials led by the prosecutor – and seen the Banong villagers – didn’t find any Vietnamese men when they went into the jungle to investigate reports of illegal logging.
Mr Nhak said he had issued a letter calling the villagers to a meeting today.
“It is just villagers’ claims but I will try to contact those border soldiers to make clarification,” he added.