A military police officer has been arrested and will be sent to court, while two others remain under questioning, after an unarmed man was shot dead on Wednesday night while travelling in a car through protected forest in Mondulkiri’s O’Raing district, officials said.
Two military police in the company of one Forestry Administration official ordered the car to pull over because the driver and two passengers were passing through the Seima Protected Forest, an area plagued by illegal logging, said provincial military police chief Sak Saraing.
When the driver refused to stop, the two military officials allegedly fired a volley of bullets.
“The military policemen opened fire and [one of them] killed the car driver and seriously injured one of his other friends,” Saraing said, adding that the injured man had been sent to receive medical treatment in Vietnam.
As of late yesterday, the two officers and forestry official were being questioned in military police custody, though only one was known to be bound for court.
The driver of the vehicle, Van Phanit, 24, was from Keo Seima’s Sre Chhouk commune, Saraing said, adding that authorities have not yet been able to identify the injured man and the other passenger who fled into the woods.
“The military official and a forest administration official accused them of transporting illegally logged wood. But we found no pieces of wood in the car,” Saraing continued.
National military police spokesman Kheng Tito said in a text message yesterday that military police officer Pheng Sok Heng is now “under investigation by the [provincial] court” for his involvement in Phanit’s death.
Authorities declined to identify the second military officer or the forest administration official who were both present during the shooting.
Sre Khtum commune chief Sam El told the Post that Phanit was a tenant of his and the adopted son of his assistant.
“I’m not sure if he was involved in illegal logging during the day of the incident. He and his friend did not tell me where they were going,” El said.
Provincial forest administration chief Sok Kheng could not be reached for comment.
Phanit’s body has been taken to a pagoda in Sre Khtum commune, said Kim Sokhong, a village chief.
“Military officials should not have used violence or attacked them if they didn’t know if they were really transporting illegal logged [timber] in the car,” Sokhong said.
Rights groups yesterday said more needs to be done to address civilian casualties.
“It’s never appropriate for a military police officer or . . . authorities to open fire on unarmed individuals, especially in a situation where there is no proof of wrongdoing,” said Pech Pisey, a program director for Transparency International.
“Now what is needed is a proper investigation for the sake of delivering justice to the murdered individual,” he said.
Ou Virak, chairman of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said collusion between government officials and rogue loggers was rampant.
“This situation may have resulted from pressure being applied from above for results or evidence that military officials are actually working to protect natural resources. Unfortunately, a death like this isn’t unpredictable when locals don’t trust authorities, who often take the law into their own hands,” he said.