Authorities in Pursat province yesterday morning arrested three NGO staff members, one day after 14 of their colleagues were snared, over allegations that they set up a checkpoint to extort money from villagers carrying timber.
Soley Mesa, deputy chief of staff with Veal Veng district police, said yesterday that the illegal checkpoint was set up on National Road 55 in Bra Maoy commune on Wednesday night.
Mr Mesa said villagers notified police of the checkpoint and officers went to investigate, leading to the arrest of 14 people that same night. Three others were later arrested yesterday morning as they were pursuing villagers transporting timber to build a house.
“The police are questioning 14 people,” he said. “Those 14 people worked for a single organisation but I don’t know where the head office is located.”
Mr Mesa identified one of the suspects as Nhem Phaymony, the chief secretary with Cambodian Environmental Protection, Wildlife and Forest Conservation, an NGO working in the area. He was apprehended along with 13 other staff members and officers, he said.
Theang Leng, Veal Veng district police chief, said the arrests followed complaints made by four villagers who were transporting timber for the construction of a home.
He said that Mr Phaymony and his men forced the villagers to pay between $10 and $75 in order to cross the checkpoint.
“The group set up the checkpoint about half a month ago,” he said. “They were warned the first time they did it, but they didn’t listen. So police coordinated with the provincial court and arrested them.”
Pan Kirith, Phnom Kravanh district police chief, said that the three suspects arrested yesterday morning were part of the group of 17 running the illegal checkpoint.
“They were driving a car and chasing people transporting timber in Veal Veng district,” he said. “They were demanding people pay bribes. We arrested them and sent them to the provincial police, after which they will be sent to court.”