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Ratanakkiri villagers in clash over illegal timber

Ratanakkiri villagers in clash over illegal timber

NEARLY 100 Jarai ethnic minority villagers from Ratanakkiri province's O'Yadav district clashed with local and Military Police officials Friday when authorities came to confiscate a haul of illegal timber the villagers were planning to export to Vietnam, officials said.

Local officials said that about 10 armed police officers went to the village to confiscate 15 cubic metres of timber the village had been stockpiling for about two months when the violence broke out.

"Nearly a hundred villagers carrying long knives and axes attack[ed] our police while we were preparing to lift the wood into our cars to take it to the Forestry Administration office," said district Military Police Chief Sok Min.

"The villagers fought with us and grabbed one camera and one set of handcuffs ... and attacked our two cars, which were slightly damaged," he said, adding that no one was injured in the attack.

Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said that the villagers, from Ten Soh village in O'Yadav's Yatong commune, were angry that local authorities had turned a blind eye to powerful businessmen involved in illegal logging.  

"The villagers dared to do this because they clearly see that Forestry Administration officials never crack down or arrest businessmen who smuggle timber, but crack down on them for earning a simple living," he said Sunday.

While admitting that the attack was against the law, Pen Bonnar said laws should be applied equally.

"We are calling for there to be no discrimination and for all offenders to be equal before the law," he said.

"[Businessmen] have luxurious cars and houses, [so] the villagers want to copy their bad habits and ignore the law."

He said Adhoc was investigating the case and had told the villagers not to use violence.

Kong Buntharo, director of the O'Yadav district Forestry Administration, said he did not wish to discuss the incident Sunday.

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