A journalist reporting on logging in Mondulkiri was picked up and interrogated by military police yesterday, following a story of his that implicated a senior military official in illegal logging.
Local journalist Van Tith says he was forcefully taken from his home in Mondulkiri’s Keo Seima district and driven to provincial military police headquarters to be questioned for several hours by provincial commander Sak Sarang – the man Tith’s report, read out on TV a day earlier, had claimed was a linchpin in Mondulkiri’s illegal timber trade.
“At the provincial military police base, [Sak Sarang] asked me, ‘Why do you broadcast that I am a timber trader in Binh Phuoc company?’” Tith said, referring to a company that has been accused of involvement in the illicit trade.
In his defence, Tith said that his boss, Em Bunthoeun, had confirmed the connections in the article between Sarang and logging.
On Wednesday, Bunthoeun, a veteran newscaster of the national news program Cambodia Today on TV 9, took to the airwaves and broadcast the article implicating Sarang in widespread logging in the province, including ownership of logs that were burned on a Binh Phuoc land concession last month in an apparent bid to destroy evidence ahead of a raid by a recently established anti-logging committee.
“According to trusted and confidential sources, that one can investigate on the issue, General Sak Sarang, Mondulkiri Provincial Military Police commander, is clearly a covert and prominent timber trader,” a confident Bunthoeun said in his broadcast.
It was only “children in primary school” that were unaware of the extent of the military commander’s involvement, with other senior provincial military officials also involved in the trade, he said.
Contacted yesterday, Bunthoeun stood by his story and said he was disappointed that the rights of his journalist had been violated for speaking the truth.
Several NGO and local officials in Mondulkiri interviewed by the Post yesterday went on to validate Bunthoeun’s claims.
“Sarang uses many networks to oppress people for his own economic benefits,” said one CPP official who asked not to be named.
The source claimed that Sarang used his power to provide protection to loggers, and had been involved in land-grabbing cases among ethnic minority groups, but his powerful position ensured those cases were ignored.
An NGO source working in the area backed up the claims, adding that Sarang was not operating alone, but with a deep and powerful network.
Contacted yesterday, Sarang denied the allegations and said that “a lawsuit is a must”.
“It is not true; they broadcast it wrongly,” he said. “The reporter cannot just broadcast what he wants as we have the defamation law.”
Eng Hy, spokesman of the National Military Police, said he was aware of the allegations, but could not confirm whether or not they would be investigated as part of the anti-logging commission’s remit, as it was up to “higher-level officials”.