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Taxis swarm forestry official pursuing van

A forestry official in Mondulkiri province was surrounded by taxi drivers yesterday as they allegedly prevented him from tailing a suspected illegal timber dealer who was heading towards the Vietnam border.

Shortly after 10am yesterday, Heng Chantra, deputy director of Sen Monorom town’s Forestry Department, was surrounded on National Road 76 while following a van he suspected was loaded with protected luxury timber, police said.

The standoff lasted for about two hours, while the 20 purported taxi drivers argued that Chantra should face extortion charges for allegedly soliciting money from them.

“He was interrogated because of the allegations of those taxi drivers,” Heng Uong, Keo Seima district police chief, said.

However, Bou Bunchheat, O’Raing district police chief, said he had concluded that “the allegation made by those drivers was just a pretext to avoid accusations [of protecting illegal loggers]”, and Chantra was later released without charge.

Police confiscated an AK-47 assault rifle from Chantra, although he produced documents showing he was authorised to carry the weapon as part of his law enforcement duties, Uong said.

Under questioning, Chantra said he received provincial authorisation to continue the pursuit of the van after leaving his area of jurisdiction in Sen Monorom town, Uong added.

He had called ahead to his colleagues in Keo Seima, but was blocked before he could reach the protected forest.

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