Soldier is Prime Suspect in Forest Patrol Murders

Cheang Sokha and Jonathan Cox / Khmer Times No Comments Share:

Police arrested a military official from Brigade 9 yesterday in connection with the murder of a forest ranger and police officer in Preah Vihear Protected Forest on Saturday, with more arrests expected to follow as investigators review evidence gathered at the crime scene. 

Khat Hun, deputy provincial police chief, said yesterday that the military officer was brought in for questioning at 2 pm yesterday as a prime suspect in the case. The officer was notorious for his involvement in illegal logging in the area, and had threatened to shoot forestry officials before. As of 6 pm yesterday, he was still being questioned by authorities.
 
“He confessed that he logged in the protected forest,” Khat Hun told Khmer Times. 

“We will not release him or we will ask the court prosecutor to issue a warrant to detain him for further questioning.” Mr. Hun declined to name the man. 

Police arrested six other men on Monday, who they identified as the owners of the chainsaws confiscated by the rangers the day before the murders, said Mr. Hun. They are scheduled to appear in court today for questioning. 

An investigative team from the Ministry of Interior has arrived in Preah Vihear to help investigate the case, and are hoping to inspect the bullets for evidence about the killers. 

The overnight patrol in the protected forests near the Laos border came across a group of illegal loggers Friday. After photographing the loggers with their gear and confiscating 10 chainsaws, the team of police officers and forest rangers let the loggers off with a warning. 

The rangers then camped near Robonh village in Choam Khsant District, roughly 70 km from the Laos border. 

Some of the loggers are suspected to have returned to the patrol’s campsite around 1 am the next morning, where they used AK-47 rifles to shoot and kill 47-year-old forestry administration ranger Sieng Narong and 29-year-old police officer Sab Yous. 

They also fired on and injured a third member of the patrol, Phet Sophon, who escaped along with his colleague Koem Chanda. 

Mr. Sophon is currently in stable condition and recovering. 

The two slain rangers were killed with a single shot from an assault rifle, Mr. Hun said, leading him to suspect that they have extensive experience with weapons and possibly a military background.

After the shooting the attackers fled, leaving behind the cameras and GPS equipment at the campsite. 

Using the evidence at the scene, police on Monday were able to identify some of the loggers who the forest patrol had encountered just before the attacks. 

Six of the men who were identified were arrested, though none have confessed to involvement in the shooting. 

Despite its protected status, Preah Vihear Protected Forest has seen large-scale logging. 

Rangers and police officers who attempt to stop the illegal lumber trade are often the targets of threats or attacks. 

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