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Charcoal sellers accuse cops of extortion

Charcoal sellers accuse cops of extortion

Border police in Oddar Meanchey province have been accused of extorting money from charcoal sellers and colluding with Thai brokers to smuggle the goods to Thailand.

Twenty-one charcoal producers representing 100 families in Oddar Meanchey’s Banteay Ampil district in a letter to the Post yesterday called on the authorities to intervene in what they said was a 60-ton-a-day illegal export business.

Lay Virak, 35, one of the letter’s signatories, said they were being forced to pay up to 20,000 riel ($5) to forestry officials and police officers who threatened to arrest them and seize their goods.

“They banned us from making and selling charcoal by making an excuse that it’s bad for the forest and environment. In fact, they put pressure on us to quit this career so it will be easy for a border police official to monopolise the business,” he said.

For more than a year, he claimed, a local police officer named Keo Thanak had run his own charcoal business, forcing loggers to sell to him at the lowest possible price.

“He forced us to sell [charcoal] to him at a cheaper price, or he will quarrel with us. He just wants to monopolise the business and does not want us to survive,” Virak added.

Hong Chamroeurn, Banteay Ompil district police chief, yesterday denied the allegations, claiming instead that people may be posing as police officers to extort the money.

“My police did not take money, because charcoal sellers only make small money to live,” he said, asking charcoal vendors to report crimes to the police.

Hor Chinvirakyuth, O’Smach checkpoint director, also denied the allegations, saying there are no charcoal exports to Thailand.

“We do not allow any charcoal exports to Thailand. It is illegal,” he said.

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