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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Animal trafficker hurt in alleged revenge hit after pangolin escape

Animal trafficker hurt in alleged revenge hit after pangolin escape

Relatives claim an animal smuggler set ablaze the house in which his courier was sleeping after the man let valuable pangolin escape.

WHAT IS A PANGOLIN?

Apangolin, also known as a scaly anteater, is a mammal that feeds on live termites and ants. The animal is covered with keratin scales that protect it from predators. Pangolins are valued for their meat, which is said to promote blood circulation.

A MAN employed to transport wildlife illegally was severely burned last week because of a dispute over an escaped pangolin, rights groups officials and relatives said.

Leang Saroeun, 27, was sleeping in a cottage in Veal Veng district in Pursat province when the cottage was reportedly set on fire by the soldier who had employed him.

The victim's wife, Laet Heang, who is six months pregnant, said that the soldier, Ou Bunthan, employed her husband to cut wood and allowed him to live in the cottage in return.

She said the soldier also has a sideline business smuggling wood and animals.

Leang Saroeun's mother, Iv Lim, said Ou Bunthan told the victim to transport a pangolin weighing 9 kilogrammes to Pursat town on June 16, adding that the scaly mammal broke free.

"My son called his boss to tell him it had escaped, but he didn't believe him," she said. "He accused my son of selling the animal and told him to pay 1.5 million riels (US$361)."

She said her son did not have the money but promised to find it. Iv Lim said the soldier told her son to go back to the cottage and stay there. Overnight on June 18 the cottage was set on fire, and her son was badly burned.

"We took him for medical treatment in the province, but they couldn't treat him, so we brought him to Phnom Penh. However, it would have cost US$150 - which we can't afford - so we brought him home," she said. "We are calling for assistance to heal him, and for the authorities to arrest Ou Bunthan."

The Post was unable to reach Ou Bunthan for comment.

The case was reported to local human rights group Adhoc. The group's Pursat coordinator, Phuong Sothea, described the act as "more brutal than deeds committed under the Pol Pot regime". He said he did not believe justice could be served at the local level in this case.

"But I am undertaking a thorough investigation and will file the complaint with the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Council of Magistracy requesting that they look into the case," he said.

The Pursat prosecutor, Top Chan Sereyvudth, said he was waiting for the police report before considering the case.

"But it is slanderous to say that Ou Bunthan burned Leang Saroeun," he said. "The district police chief at Veal Veng told me that what really happened is that the victim was angry with his boss after being told to leave the cottage and tried to burn it down with petrol after stealing the groceries. The flames set his body on fire, and the police took him to hospital."

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