The Ministry of Information formed a commission on Wednesday to investigate an incident that journalists and a NGO worker claim was a case of attempted murder during their investigation of illegal timber activity in Rattanakkiri last week.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith decided to create a commission to investigate the incident, which took place on February 1 in Veun Sai district, after receiving a request for intervention last week.
The journalists said a group of more than 10 people working for a timber trader known as “Meng” had “attempted to kill” them by ramming their car twice with another vehicle, and by throwing rocks and a metal rod at their car.
However, locals quoted by news outlet VD7 accused the journalists of trying to extort villagers and of threatening to handcuff a woman if she did not lead them to the timber.
District Governor Chhum Nhil, meanwhile, maintained yesterday that the altercation was a traffic accident and that “authorities are investigating the second” collision, adding that “Meng” was in Vietnam.
The journalists involved are Sok Sovann, of the Khmer Journalists for Democracy Association and the organisation Union Media of ASEAN, and five other journalists from little-known local news outlets, as well as a conservation NGO staffer.
Information Ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng, head of the commission, said they would “start the work early next week”.
Though extortion allegations against “journalists” in timber cases are often reported and rarely investigated, he said the ministry had set up the committee in this case following a request from those involved.
Sovann said yesterday that the extortion allegations were “made up by Meng”, arguing that their car was hit twice making it an unlikely accident.
“They bribed some journalists to avoid printing the truth,” he said, adding that he had been a journalists’ rights advocate for more than 10 years.