Journalists, Alleged Illegal Loggers Clash

A pair of journalists attempting to photograph a pickup truck transporting luxury wood in Preah Vihear City on Sunday evening said they were chased by the drivers and four other men wielding clubs before police intervened, but the provincial police chief denied the reporters’ claims and accused them of extortion.

Sao Vandy, 46, a reporter for the Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper, and Buth Siken, 34, from the Sralanch Cheat newspaper, said they had been driving behind the truck —which was carrying first-grade koki wood they suspected had been illegally logged—on National Road 62 in Palhal commune when the vehicle stopped suddenly and two men jumped out.

“We just tried to take photographs of the wood and we did not ask for money, but two people got out of the truck and screamed at us, claiming that the wood belonged to an official working for the Anti-Corruption Unit,” Mr. Vandy said, adding that one of the men then made a telephone call to Brigadier General Si Kiri, chief of provincial police.

Ten minutes later, Mr. Vandy said, four more men arrived in a car and all six attempted to attack the reporters with sticks and steel pipes.

“Six people separated into two groups of three and one chased me and one chased my colleague, then one of the people kicked me twice in the back while I was running away,” he said.

Mr. Siken, who had been employed by Sralanch Cheat for just two weeks, said he managed to escape by running into a cornfield.

The reporters say that after fleeing to a safe distance, seven police officers showed up and allowed the armed men to go on their way before escorting the reporters to the provincial police station.

Brig. Gen. Kiri offered a different account of Sunday’s events. He said the reporters had admitted to attempting to extort $300 from the driver, who had only been transporting wooden furniture, by promising not to publish a story about the wood in exchange for the money.

“We received information from our officials that the two journalists stopped the truck and asked for $300, but that the driver refused and an argument started when the reporters tried to take a photograph of the truck,” he said.

Brig. Gen. Kiri rejected the idea that four men had been sent to attack the reporters, who he said abandoned their car of their own volition.

“The two journalists confessed that they attempted to extort money from the truck driver and we allowed them to take their car back after they apologized and promised not to do this anymore,” he said.

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