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Soldiers and a Forestry Administration official pose for a photo last month with illegal timber that was seized in Kampong Speu’s Oral district. Photo spplied

No action on standoff claim

Gunshots were fired in a tense standoff between two armed groups in Kampong Speu province’s Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary last month, prompting a court investigation into what happened.

Members of the NGO-sponsored Wildlife Rapid Response Team (WRRT), which is comprised of armed forest rangers and overseen by the Wildlife Alliance, had attempted to impound 6 cubic metres of luxury timber in the sanctuary on June 10.

However, the five military officers allegedly transporting the timber had other ideas.

Led by a military officer identified to the court as Choeung Theng, the soldiers have been accused of “interfering with the authorities, concealing evidence of forest crimes and attempted murder”, according to a complaint filed to the court.

More than 20 days after the complaint was filed on behalf of the WRRT by local forest network the Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organization (NRWPO), a court official yesterday admitted that no action had been taken.

The six plaintiffs are Major Sieng Um, a military police commander; Second Lieutenant Mel Saream, a military police officer; Second Lieutenant Be Chamreun, a soldier from Region 3; Khy Horm, a military police officer; and Wildlife Alliance employees Chorn Hong and Kong Chetra.

Um said the WRRT had stopped a Hyundai truck loaded with more than 750 planks of Pchek timber totalling more than 6 cubic metres, on June 10.

The driver bolted, but as the WRRT officials were leaving the area, a car blocked their path and guns were pulled on the rangers by a group of soldiers.

“His truck was loaded with illegal timber, but he pointed the pistol at us to rob it back. He yelled that no one is able to take his items away,” he alleged.

“When we refused to hand him back the truck and timber, he wanted to shoot at us and swore at us badly. He walked around with the gun pointed at us.”

The WRRT team then fired several warning shots in the air, causing the soldiers to retreat and giving the rangers time to call for backup.

Theng could not be reached yesterday.

Chea Hean, the Kampong Speu director of the NRWPO, said he was preparing to forward the case directly to the Ministry of Justice if an investigation was not launched.

The lawsuit was stamped with a court seal on June 15, however Keo Sothear, the provincial prosecutor, said he had only received the documents yesterday.

“I just got the lawsuit a few minutes ago. I do not know why [it was delayed].

I am checking it in order to take legitimate actions,” he said.

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