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Navy loggers opened fire: NGO

NGO Wildlife Alliance has publicly accused members of the Royal Cambodian Navy of opening fire on patrolling rangers on the Tatai river in Koh Kong’s Smach Meanchey district after they tried to seize an allegedly illegal shipment of rosewood.

At about 11pm on October 10, a patrol team approached the naval boat, which was caught in mud during low tide, when the alleged traffickers leapt out and sought refuge in a nearby rainforest, a statement published on Wildlife Alliance’s website claims.

“As soon as our rangers arrived on the crime scene the navy traffickers opened fire and started to shoot on the rangers, who quickly backed off in their speed boat,” the statement reads.

A six-hour standoff between the rangers and naval officials followed until rangers managed to gain access to the boat once high tide commenced, confiscating 12 tonnes of rosewood along with the vessel.

An official with the NGO unauthorised to speak with the press confirmed the organisation had submitted a lawsuit to the provincial court and governor along with the Ministry of National Defence.

“The navy forces were shipping the illegal rosewood to Vietnam or Thailand, but our patrol team intercepted and those navy soldiers shot at us. It was completely dark; fortunately no one was hurt,” the official said.

Wildlife Alliance’s founder and CEO Suwanna Gauntlett said this was the first time the organisation had encountered an incident involving the Royal Navy opening fire on one of its patrol teams.

“Trust me, we’re going all the way up the chain of command regarding this incident,” Gauntlett said yesterday.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, was unsurprised to hear illegal rosewood logging was occurring in Koh Kong or that naval officers were implicated.

“I doubt any resolution will be reached in this case. I’m sure people up the chain of command are already involved,” Virak said.

Chhum Socheat, spokesman from the Ministry of Defense, and officials from Koh Kong’s provincial navy base could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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