Soldiers ‘attack’ patrollers for confiscating timber

Source : The Phnom Penh Post

Two forestry administration officials and a soldier identified as ‘Duong’ stand in front of a tractor loaded with timber he was allegedly hauling.

A Royal Cambodian Armed Forces member, backed up by seven of his fellow soldiers, allegedly attacked a community forest patroller and threatened to set him and his family on fire for confiscating illegal timber, according to the patroller.

Two patrollers from the Sorng Rukhavorn community forest and one from the Ratanaka Rukha community forest intercepted two soldiers from Brigade 42 on Sunday evening and confiscated the timber they were allegedly transporting on a mini-tractor in Samrong town.

Upon intercepting the two soldiers, they called Forestry Administration (FA) officials to confiscate the evidence – including eight pieces of thnong timber, which the patrollers believe were illegally logged in Sorng Rukhavorn.

Patroller Loeut Las, 27, said that when his group stopped the timber haul one of the soldiers fled, but patrollers managed to detain the other, whom he knew only as “Duong”.

Two FA officials arrived on scene, and together they made their way to the FA’s local office. Las was driving the tractor, carrying one patroller and a forestry official on the back, together with Duong, while the rest of the group drove behind on motorbikes.

On the way, Duong allegedly started threatening Las and his family when Las declined to accept a bribe to release him and the timber.

“He said if I still confiscated his timber, he would call other soldiers to buy and throw gasoline on me to kill me,” Las said, adding that the soldier asked for his family’s address. He said Duong also used an axe to threaten an FA official.

The official could not be for comment reached yesterday.

After they had driven around 4 kilometres, Duong made good on his threat to call soldiers, seven of whom blocked the road, at which point Duong grabbed Las by his shirt and hit him hard in the neck.

“I almost fell unconscious,” he said.

As it was dark and his colleagues on their motorbikes weren’t close enough, Las said he didn’t dare to fight back, and the soldiers left with the tractor.

FA official Nem Khom, who was behind on a motorbike, corroborated Las’s account yesterday.

Las and the FA officials reported the incident to the provincial Forestry Administration on Tuesday.

The Venerable Bun Saluth, chief of the Sorng Rukhavorn community forest, said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that he had since sought intervention from provincial Governor Sar Thavy against Duong and seven other soldiers from Brigade 42’s Regiment 424.

Saluth could not be reached yesterday, and Thavy declined to comment.

Sout Sisokheng, director of the provincial Agriculture Department, said his officials were searching for Duong and his accomplices to bring them to court for forest crimes, but also urged the community to sue the attackers for violence.

“It is not a regular case,” he added.

Sorn Van, commander of Brigade 42, said he had heard of the case, but denied that his soldiers were involved and claimed he didn’t have any contact with Regiment 424.

Chhum Socheat, Defence Ministry spokesperson, could not be reached.

Las yesterday said this was not the first time he got in conflict with loggers. In 2015, he said, they set his home on fire.

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