A forest activist in Kampong Thom province yesterday claimed to have been threatened with a knife by a soldier after reporting that the officer was behind a number of forest crimes in the area.
Pen Bunkear, a soldier with the Kampong Thom military research unit, yesterday denied attempting to stab Chheang Vuthy, an activist with the Prey Lang Community Network who last year filed a complaint against 15 officials – including Bunkear – for alleged involvement in illegal logging.
“I don’t know anything, and now I am busy joining a funeral,” Bunkear said yesterday.
But Vuthy says Bunkear flew into a rage when he saw him eating at a restaurant in Sandan district’s Mean Rith commune on May 13, attempting to stab him with a knife before being restrained by onlookers.
“I don’t know the reason he is angry with me, when he pulled out his knife to stab me. But in my opinion, he may be angry with me since I filed a complaint to the Ministry of Interior last year against officers behind forest crimes, and he is one of the 15 people [named],” he said.
Vuthy added that he believed he would have died if others had not intervened to stop Bunkear.
“Protesting against forest crimes is extremely difficult, and we are threatened by the authorities and business people almost every time, but the perpetrators live in peace.”
Chhem Savuth, executive officer at the Natural Resources Preservation Organization, said the communities opposing illegal logging in Prey Lang were in constant danger.
“Currently, the community working against forest crimes is always risking life and limb, because the perpetrators are police forces and soldiers equipped with arms … so some communities have given up forest protection,” he said.
Vuthy said he was unfazed by the alleged encounter, adding that he was willing to die for his cause.
“I will not be afraid until I am killed like Chut Wutty, and then my activity will no longer exist,” he said, referring to the prominent environmentalist who was killed in a confrontation with authorities in 2012.