Timber smugglers who mounted a raid on a police station in Kratie Town on Wednesday to reclaim impounded wood claim they were beaten during the initial seizure the night before, with at least six badly injured.
At about 11pm on Tuesday, military police and Forestry Administration officials intercepted the smugglers’ convoy of 10 vans loaded with timber.
“It was like a robbery,” recalled Tea Seanghun, 40, of Prek Chik village in Prek Prasap district’s Sorb commune. “We urged them to stop hitting the drivers, but an official punched me in the shoulder and tried to push me to the ground.”
Sen Sokny, 39, also of Sorb commune, spoke on the phone from the provincial referral hospital, where she was caring for her husband, Thort Sothy, 40.
“One of the officials used a rifle to break our car’s mirror. They used violence on women,” Sokny said.
Din Khanny, provincial investigator for rights group Adhoc, interviewed timber traders receiving treatment at the hospital. He said six were injured, three badly.
“Officials scuffled with them. In addition, seven trucks were damaged. The authorities had no right to use violence against these people, it’s against the law,” Khanny said yesterday, adding that 18 officials were involved in the “hot and violent” incident.
Khanny added that Adhoc was providing legal advice to the timber smugglers regarding police violence, but none had made an official complaint as of Thursday evening.
Seanghun said the key difference between Tuesday’s incident and previous times the timber convoy has been intercepted is that officials did not request a bribe, adding that trips had previously cost her as much as $125 in bribes.
She also rejected Kratie town military police commander Phat Sopheak Veasna’s statement that the seized timber was not pepper posts as the traders claimed but luxury-grade wood. “It’s just trees left over from a forest fire,” she said.
Sorb commune police chief Sa Buntha said 10 families in the commune make their living selling pepper posts, adding that they travel in a convoy so they can assist each other should they get bogged down.
Veasna referred questions to military police spokesman Eng Hy, who denied the allegations.
“The military police did not use any violence against them. Officials just ordered them to stop and they got injured when they crashed their vehicles by themselves,” Hy said.
He added that he was not aware of military police requesting bribes in the area but suggested witnesses file a complaint so he could order an investigation and have punishment meted out to those found guilty.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether prosecutions will be brought against individuals involved in the retaking of the seized timber from the Kratie town military police station on Wednesday, during which a crowd dragged a military police vehicle several metres in order to free a seized van.
Provincial deputy prosecutor Hak Horn said he was still waiting for the case file to be delivered to the provincial court yesterday afternoon, adding he had only received a primary report on the incident so far.
“If we receive it, first we will follow the law and summon them [for questioning] with the completed report of justice officials,” Horn said, adding that the trading of the seized wood without a licence was a crime already, and that its recovery was considered tampering with evidence while the dragging of the military police vehicle was destruction of state property.