A forest protection community in Pech Chreada district’s Bou Sra commune in Mondulkiri province submitted a formal complaint on Tuesday against Saroeun Mab, the owner of four illegal sawmills who allegedly threatened three activists after they had taken photographs of suspected illegal logging in the community forest.
The representative of seven communities in the commune, Kroeung Tola, said on Sunday that the sawmills’ owner, Saroeun Mab, who is a former soldier, threatened him and two others – Sreuk Seunh and Sraing Soeun – over the phone and in person, claiming he would hit them with a car, attack the men and fatally shoot them.
Tola said Mab had made the threats after a group of community members inspected and took pictures of illegal activities at four sawmill locations in O’Chras village, which are owned by Mab, on June 15.
He said while they were patrolling the forest, the community members found chainsaws and felled timber in all locations.
Some 10 Vietnamese workers were hired to keep watch, Tola said, and the activists observed that at each sawmill, at least three trucks – each with a capacity of four to six cubic metres of wood – transported timber to other areas.
Tola told The Post on Tuesday that a formal complaint had been submitted to the district police chief after Mab failed to come forward to settle the dispute within the time limit set by the community – from June 16-24.
“Since we are all fellow citizens and indigenous people, we wanted him to make a settlement outside the court, but he disagreed, saying he had money and knew a lot of people. He said he didn’t care how much money he would spend,” the representative said.
According to Tola, the community demanded “four million riel [$1,000] in compensation”. In the complaint letter, they also requested that Mab be punished under the law and that the authorities shut down his illegal sawmill operations.
Pech Chreada district deputy police chief Men Many said as part of the legal process, both parties in the dispute would be summoned to testify, but no specific date had been set.
However, Many said that Mab did not run illicit sawmill operations. He said a team from the provincial forestry administration had inspected the sites directly on Monday.
“It is not like what the community claimed. Mab said he had asked permission from the commune authority to legally saw timber to build a house,” he said.
Provincial Forestry Administration director Um Van Sopheak said he had not received any report from his subordinates regarding the inspection.
Tola said when the authority conducted the inspection, no one from the community was invited. Instead, they were led by Mab to visit the locations of old sawmills which had been abandoned since last year.
“He [Mab] did not take the officials to the locations where we had found the four sawmills. The authorities should have invited our representatives to inspect together. This might be perceived as collusion,” he said.
Tola warned that if the district authority doesn’t act on the complaint, the community will file another complaint to the provincial authority.
He stressed that the next complaint would not only be filed against Mab but also against commune officials and the district police chief as well.
Pech Chreada district governor Meul Soeun, who is also Mab’s uncle, said his nephew had not made any death threats and that there were no illegal sawmills as claimed by the community.
“After the community met Mab for clarifications, the community said that there had been some confusion,” he said.