Forestry Administration officials and local police on Wednesday intercepted a load of illegal timber in Kampong Speu, but only managed to seize two of the 10 first-grade logs after villagers began to burn the timber – and attempted to do the same to an FA truck – in protest of the confiscation.
Chea Saron, chief of the Borsed Forestry Administration, who led the operation after receiving a tip, said that some 20 villagers erupted in protest in an attempt to halt the seizure.
“We do not know the owner of the timber, but the villagers claimed the timber is [theirs] and wanted it back,” he said. “They also attempted to burn the truck. [We] were in fear.”
According to a video clip posted on Facebook, authorities turned their trucks around as the timber was burning, while other officers just stood watching from a distance.
Saron said villagers also insulted officials, but no arrests were carried out.
“Villagers banning the authorities is completely [a] violation of the law, but we could not do anything because they are simple villagers and there were many of them,” he said.
Khun Sokhim, Taing Sya commune police chief, claimed it was difficult for authorities to stop the villagers because they live in the same commune.
“We are afraid that they will hate us,” he said.
Sokhim said the villagers had logged the timber illegally to build homes or to sell it, though he claimed not to know who they sold it to. He added it would be up to the FA to take action.
Chea Hean, head of the Natural Resources and Wildlife Preservation Organization, claimed that the villagers had sold the timber to a military official named Yim Sophan, who had already paid, and had ordered villagers to protest to get the timber back or pay him back double.
Hean further alleged that Sophan is the father of Yim Sokhan, a soldier who earlier this week was arrested in the same district for allegedly using “fake” Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ licence plates to transport timber.
Sophan yesterday denied the accusation that he bought the wood from the villagers and ordered them to protest, though he did admit Sokhan is his son.
Saron, with the FA, said that he was not sure if Sophan was involved in the crime as the investigation is still ongoing.