A border police officer and two military officers are considered the prime suspects in a shooting that killed three people in Mondulkiri province’s O’Raing district on Tuesday evening.
Provincial police claim the shooting, which occurred in the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, happened after the victims came across a number of Vietnamese with motorbikes carrying timber and confiscated their chainsaw.
The incident took place between 4pm and 5pm, approximately 25 kilometres from the O’Role border police post in Pouyam village, in O’Raing district’s Sen Monorom commune.
Officials identified the victims as forest ranger Tern Soknai, National Military Police officer Sek Vanthana and Thol Kna, a Wildlife Conservation Society official who died on the way to hospital.
Provincial police chief Ouk Samnang told Khmer Times that a few people, including two military officers, had been called for questioning yesterday, but it had not determined if they were involved.
“We are still working on it and cannot elaborate further,” he said.
However, a provincial police report sent to National Police chief General Neth Savoeun and obtained yesterday said the victims had been cracking down on illegal logging and were provoked by police officers and two soldiers from border units.
“The reason for the shooting was because military police, an environment officer and a staffer from WCS went to catch eight motorcycles from Vietnam that were carrying timber and chainsaws,” the report said.
National Police spokesman General Kirth Chantharith said a police officer and two military officers were on the run after the incident and National Police forces were hunting for them.
“We are seeking to arrest those three people for further questioning,” he said.
Mr Chantharith dismissed the part of the report that mentioned the Vietnamese motorbikes.
“The report just said one group of people. It didn’t say Vietnamese,” he added.
Mr Chantharith said police had brought a villager who survived the shooting to provincial police headquarters for questioning. He had been accompanying the three people who died.
According to Mr Chantharith, the villager told police he had asked permission from officials to cut some trees to build his house. Environment officials agreed and went to check out the area, which was when they encountered the group of people logging.
After they ordered the loggers to stop, one of the loggers phoned someone that sounded like the police post and handed his phone to the forest ranger, Mr Chantharith added.
According to the villager, the forest ranger told the loggers they weren’t being arrested but they would have to confiscate their chainsaw. The military police officer took the chainsaw on his motorbike and the four left the area.
The villager said they stopped to rest after driving far away from the area, when he suddenly heard gunshots. He escaped into the jungle but could not see who was shooting.
About an hour or two before the shooting, the border police chief of unit 612 heard a forest ranger had confiscated a chainsaw so he ordered two soldiers carrying AK-47s to accompany the border post police chief to the area, Mr Chantharith added.
“We don’t know what happened. We are now investigating those three people,” he said.
“We can primarily conclude they confronted each other. If there wasn’t anything wrong they should have returned to their unit.”
Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary director Din Bunthoeun said his ranger, Mr Soknai, had been carrying out monthly patrols with the cooperation of military police and WCS staff.
“While on patrol, they met a group of Vietnamese people who had erected shelters and they saw some timber and chainsaws,” he said, while sharing his condolences to the families of the victims.
Meanwhile, the National Military Police has ordered its task force against illegal logging to conduct an investigation, but they have yet to release any information.
Srun Darith, chief of cabinet of the Environment Ministry, said the ministry was waiting for the results of the joint investigation being carried out by police and military police.
“We have received a report that provincial police have called some people for questioning such as military officers, police post officers and a villager involved in the incident,” he said.
The bodies of the victims have been sent to their families for funeral arrangements.