Dozens of angry villagers surrounded a detachment of Forestry Administration officers in Preah Vihear province on Tuesday in order to protect a pile of valuable logs from being seized, claiming the wood had been legally harvested, officials said on Wednesday.
The hourlong standoff in Tbeng Meanchey district came to a peaceful end when police intervened, though the forestry officers were forced to leave without the timber, according to authorities.
Provincial deputy military police commander Chu Bunsong said that about 10 officers from the Forestry Administration’s Preah Vihear cantonment and Tbeng Meanchey division arrived in Porthy commune on Tuesday morning and attempted to confiscate four 3-meter-long pieces of first-grade Koki Dek wood.
“When they were inspecting the wood, a lot of residents became angry and prevented them from leaving, so they decided to leave that area without confiscating anything,” Mr. Bunsong said, explaining that nearly 100 people surrounded the officers until local police showed up to diffuse the situation.
District governor Ung Vuthy said the Forestry officers had contacted commune police, who sent five men to the area.
“The Forestry Administration officials did not want to confront the people, so they decided leave the scene,” he said.
The governor claimed the four pieces of wood had been stashed near the home of a local family by a group of illegal timber dealers, and that the residents were not protecting their property—as they claimed—but rather covering for the dealers.
“Those people were not defending their property, they were protecting the illegal dealers,” he said, adding some of the villagers had acted “like drunk men.” Mr. Vuthy said authorities were still deciding whether to take further action.
The Forestry Administration’s Preah Vihear cantonment chief, Ith Phura, and his deputy, Nuon Sokhom, both declined to comment. Division officials could not be reached.
Lor Chann, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said he did not know whether the wood had been logged illegally but that the attempt to seize it had been a waste of time.
“Illegal dealers are logging and transporting many truckloads every day. Why are they not cracking down on them?” Mr. Chann said.