Seven police officers and an NGO staffer in Mondulkiri province escaped a potentially violent confrontation with illegal loggers on Wednesday, while a soldier who was accompanying the group claimed he received death threats from military police connected to the logging operation.
Khleuv Krak, 40, a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces officer from Phnom Penh, was with seven policemen and a staff member of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) who were on a trip to measure the effects of logging on the community forest in Pech Chreada district’s Pou Chrei commune.
At about 8pm, Krak said, the group came across a truck on the road transporting illegally logged timber out of the forest. The group blocked the road with their motorbikes and called the provincial Forestry Administration to intervene.
Before the Forestry Administration could respond, two men – identified only as Pheak and Phal Che, both from Kratie province – arrived at the scene and ordered the group to move.
“They ordered us to take the bikes out of the way, or they will hit them,” Krak said yesterday. “We agreed to move three, but the officer from the WWF refused to move his bike, and they drove the truck and hit it and escaped,” he said.
Chhit Sam Ath, WWF-Cambodia country director, said in an email to the Post that he was still trying to establish the facts in the case.
“WWF staff was working with communities in Pou Chrei commune when the incident happened. WWF team in Mondulkiri province will conduct further investigation on this incident to obtain clear facts about the happening,” he wrote. “We observed illegal logging activities have dramatically increased over the past three months and this is affecting the work with communities that are receiving support from WWF projects,” he added.
Krak also claimed that several military police officers he believed to be associates of the loggers threatened to kill him over the incident.
“They looked for me and threatened to kill me. I was scared to death,” he said.
Krak said he feared the WWF would suspend its operations in Mondulkiri following the incident, but Sam Ath said its work would continue.
“WWF’s personnel are working normally in their office and in the field in Mondulkiri, but WWF is concerned by this incident and will conduct further investigation to assess the situation and security of WWF staff,” he said.
Trang Thoeurn, Pou Chrei commune police chief, said he had sent a report to the provincial police chief, Nhem Vanny.
Vanny denied receiving the report.