Minister of Environment Say Samal yesterday vowed that those responsible for the murder of two forest rangers shot dead while patrolling a protected forest near Preah Vihear temple Saturday morning will be brought to justice.
Mr. Samal also demanded that local authorities capture those responsible for the attack on the forest patrol, which left a third ranger hospitalized.
“We are really sorry for losing our officers working in these difficult places,” Mr. Samal told Khmer Times. “We must find the criminals and punish them according to the law. We are working with authorities to find them.”
Sieng Narong and Sab Yous were killed in a protected forest in Choam Khsan district on Saturday morning.
The provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, Lor Chann, blamed the attack on illegal loggers, saying it was a backlash against forestry administration officials who are trying to prevent them from continuing their lucrative but illegal trade.
Preah Vihear deputy provincial police chief Keo Chamroeun, however, declined to comment, saying the investigation is ongoing.
“The killers used a gun. Normally, people don’t use guns. This protected forest area has more timber than Prey Lang, but the deforestation here has been worse,” Mr. Chann said.
He added that government forces and the environment ministry are in charge of protecting the forest between Choam Khsant and Tbeng Meanchey districts. Most of the deforestation in this area is due to logging by companies or local people who are paid to cut down trees, Mr. Chann said.
“Sometimes, the local officials and some journalists close their eyes when they see deforestation cases because they also get money from the timber businesses or other companies,” he said.
Local officials who do not turn a blind eye are always threatened when they try to stop the crime, he added.
Mr. Samal said the ministry is trying to protect forest rangers by providing them with military training. In some areas they face physical hostility and potential violence, he said, adding that they receive bonuses for the training they receive.
The rangers also have a low rank and are not considered government officials. “Most of the forest rangers are contracted officers. We want to promote them to become government officials,” the minister said. “I want to do it fast. Because there are more than 1,000 rangers in our national forests and parks. We need time to study this.”
A source familiar with park rangers in protected areas told Khmer Times that in recent months the rangers have been relieved of their weapons, usually AK rifles.
“I am aware of this. At Bokor National Park and Oral Mountain, the park rangers have all been relieved of their weapons and issued a bayonet to carry out patrols and curb illegal logging. This has been the case all over the country,” a ranger formerly posted at Bokor said.
He claimed that the rangers were afraid of entering deep into the forest where illegal activities take place as they were unarmed and often had to seek assistance from armed local police to go on joint patrols.