Wood hunters accuse cops of stealing rare timber

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Hundreds of people who last September rushed to a forest in the central province of Khanh Hoa to search for Calambac, a rare and expensive fragrant wood, have lodged more complaints against local officers for stealing their lumber.

In their latest complaints filed on November 19, Bui Van Khanh, Bui Huu Thao, Thai Tung, and Nguyen Van Hoc represented 315 hunters, demanding officers from Khanh Son District's police division pay them their share of money earned from selling the Calambac.

The hunters said on September 26, the officers, who were tasked with stopping them from entering Gop Nga Forest to search for the wood, took the timber from them and promised to give them half of the profits from any subsequent sales. But the hunters have yet to receive payment.

They also accused the officers of using tasers and guns to force them to relinquish the wood, which weighed a total of 1.5 kilograms and was estimated to be worth VND15 billion (US$713,700).

Over the past two months, the four representatives, all Khanh Hoa residents, have logged 16 complaints with provincial agencies.

According to the hunters, they have filed more complaints with other agencies including the Khanh Son People's District and Khanh Hoa's Anti-Corruption Steering Committee, after a recent meeting with leaders from the Khanh Son police, who called their demand for payment "baseless."

Police leaders claimed the four representative hunters were not the ones who found the wood, but had only heard that others had located it. Furthermore, police said they did not know the identities of the hunters who found the wood.

Speaking to the press, the police said after the hunters filed complaints, some officers submitted over VND1 billion ($47,600) which they claimed the hunters had paid in exchange for permission to continue searching for the wood despite a ban issued by local authorities during the mad search in mid September.

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Leaders from the Khanh Son police division said they were investigating the case and would "strictly" punished the officers if they were found to have accepted bribes.

The case came to light when hundreds of wood scavengers gathered at Khanh Son People's Committee headquarters demanding to be paid on October 22.

They were among between 400 and 500 people from nearby provinces who invaded Gop Nga to search for Calambac, after an unconfirmed report in mid-September said that a man had earned tens of billions of dong from selling wood he found in the forest.

The hunters then divided areas up among themselves in the forest, logged trees, and dug up an area of around 2,000 square meters, which prompted local authorities to assign forces to the site to stop the search.

Most of the hunters, however, left after running out of food and money without finding anything of value.

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