Three community activists from Bou Sra commune in Mondulkiri province’s Pech Chreada district have claimed that they received death threats from the owner of four sawmills after they took photographs of alleged illegal logging from the community forest.
The district authority has said it will take legal action if the three formally file lawsuits.
Pech Chreada commune representative Kroeung Tola told The Post on Sunday that the sawmills’ owner, Saroeun Mab, who is a former soldier, threatened him and two other people – 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.
Chreada says Mab made the threats because two weeks ago, 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.
“[Mab] said that he knew my motorbike, my entry and exit routes and my appearance. He threatened me. He told the community members that his bullets did not have eyes. He said if he sees anyone taking pictures at the sawmills, he will attack that person,” Tola said.
He said that while they were patrolling the forest, the community members found chainsaws and felled timber in four different locations.
Some 10 Vietnamese workers were hired to keep watch, Tola said, and the community members 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 said he sent the photos to Mab and then went to meet him to find out why the sawmills were operating illegally.
“Mab said he had asked for permission from the commune and local authorities to process wood to build houses.
“But they only allowed him to operate in February and only process between six and seven cubic metres. The permission doesn’t allow him to operate during this period,” he said.
Tola claimed that the sawmills purchase timber from local people who log illegally.
He said he had already lodged a complaint to Pech Chreada district deputy police chief Men Many over the phone and if the district authority did not take action, he would file a complaint at the provincial court.
Many said he would lead a team to inspect the sawmill operation on Monday and if it was found to be operating illegally, he would report the matter to the Forestry Administration.
Regarding Mab’s alleged death threats, Many said the authorities would follow legal procedures if the community members submitted a formal complaint.
Mab could not be reached for comment.
Sraing Sroeun, another villager who claimed to have been threatened, said Mab was determined not to let them live in peace if the authorities arrested him regarding illegal activities at the sawmills.
“He said he is not afraid of anyone and no one dares to oppose him,” Sroeun said.
Eang Mengly, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said making death threats is a serious matter and the authorities should launch an immediate investigation.
“The authorities should defend citizens and maintain social order even though no proper documents or letters have been submitted because some people are illiterate. They should launch an investigation to verify whether or not the complaints are justified,” he added.