A mob of some 60 men burned down an environmental ranger station inside Mondulkiri’s Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary on Friday, allegedly as revenge against rangers who had previously stopped them from clearing forest, an official said yesterday.
Keo Sopheak, provincial environmental department director, said the men rode motorbikes and carried more than 10 petrol bottles to the station, where two environmental rangers and two military policemen were temporarily staying.
“About 60 unknown men stormed into the station with their faces covered with scarves,” he said.
Some of them, he said, talked to the rangers while others managed to set the station on fire from behind.
“They threw more than 10 bottles of gasoline into the station, which was completely destroyed by the blaze and then they escaped,” he said.
Though the men have not yet been identified, Sopheak said he suspected they were a group who had previously been illegally clearing land inside the wildlife sanctuary but were stopped by rangers.
“That made them angry,” Sopheak said.
No rangers were injured, but a few sets of uniforms, shoes, hammocks, a car battery and food inside the 5-by-6-metre station were destroyed, he added.
The department is now preparing to take legal action with the provincial court this week.
“It won’t take long, and we will know who is behind this,” Sopheak said, before characterising the incident as being brought on by “rage and turmoil”.
District Governor Sin Vannvuth yesterday said only some of the men were land clearers, but declined to comment further.
Kreung Tola, a local community representative, said he believed that the arson was caused by loggers.
“If they are not happy with the rangers, they should have protested . . . instead,” Tola said.
In a number of previous instances around the country, villagers have overwhelmed remote Forestry and Fisheries Administration outposts in bids to force the release of arrested compatriots or to reclaim confiscated equipment.
In a separate incident in Ratanakkiri province, seven Vietnamese nationals were arrested on Saturday morning for allegedly illegally felling timber.
Chea Bunthoeun, provincial deputy police chief in charge of immigration, said yesterday that the group had illegally crossed the border at the point where O’Yadav, Bakeo and Andong Meas districts meet.
“They logged and hauled [timber] with tractors. We managed to arrest seven people, while four to five people managed to escape,” Bunthoeun said.He said that villagers had tipped them off to the group’s activities.
“We witnessed the action and arrested them, because anyone can arrest them for a red-handed crime,” he said.“We brought them to the provincial police station where they were questioned and reported to the provincial prosecutor as well.”
He added that five chainsaws were seized, while five tractors were left in the forest due to the difficulty of bringing them out.
Sovan Bunthai, provincial coordinator for right groups Licadho, said he received many reports from the community of alleged forest crimes committed by Vietnamese nationals, particularly near the border in O’Yadav’s Sesan commune and in Andong Meas’ Nhang commune.
“However, the crackdowns of the authorities are not really effective,” he said.
But Nhem Sam Oeun, Rattanakkiri Provincial Hall spokesman, maintained that incursions by Vietnamese loggers were rare.
“We need to interrogate them to know how could they crossed [the border] and logged,” he said.
Provincial prosecutor Liv Sreng said yesterday afternoon that the arrestees had not yet been sent to court because authorities had not finished questioning them.