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Loggers claim NGO extortion

A loacal NGO director and a village chief in Battambang’s Samlot district were summoned for questioning by district police today over a complaint filed by six loggers, who claim the men attempted to extort $6,000 from them under the threat of violence.

The loggers, who regularly collect timber and natural resources from Angkor Ling Mountain in Ta Tork commune, claim Chan Vai, a director of a local conservation NGO, stopped the men as they returned from illegally collecting rosewood last Wednesday.

The loggers claim the director drew his gun and demanded each of them pay a $1,000 fine, according to Chhim Yorn, deputy police chief of Ta Tork police.

Yorn said that because Vai is not affiliated with police, he does not have the authority to order such payment, adding he was unsure where Vai got the gun.

“Chan Vai [has] claimed he is the relative of government officers, and our villagers feel scared of him,” he said, adding he believes Vai may have more power than local authorities.

“He used the village chief’s house as his office to extort money from people,” he said.

One of the loggers involved, Yen Vin, 45, said yesterday that three of the men were able to pay the fine, but others attempted to sell their property in order to do so. When one of the men tried to sell his cow, authorities were alerted to the situation.

“Chan Vai took the gun and pointed at me,” Vin recalled. “We had no money, so we asked them if we could pay only $100 each, but they disagreed. Finally, they agreed to take 1 million riel [$250] each”.

Vin said the sixth logger, 16-year-old Heng Samnol, was forced to accompany Vai to the place where the men discovered the rosewood tree, but as of yesterday evening, he had not returned home yet.

“We are so scared since they intimidated us,” Vin said.

The other men accused of involvement and summoned for questioning include village chief Bou Pun, his son Bou Phalla, and four others: Sal Phal, Heut Thy, Khan Sokhem, Nub Torn.

Chan Vai could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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