Two law enforcement officers in Preah Vihear were gunned down in a late-night ambush by unknown attackers shortly after a raid on an illegal logging site early on Saturday morning, in what one official said yesterday was the first incident of its kind.
Seang Darong, a provincial forestry officer, and Captain Sath Yoush, a police officer in Chheb district were killed, while Theth Sorphoan, a police officer, was injured in the attack. Authorities suspect that illegal loggers are behind the murders.
“Police now are searching for identities in order to arrest them and bring them to justice,” said Brigadier General Sy Kiri, chief of the Preah Vihear provincial police.
On Friday night, the victims were participating in a patrol of a protected forest in Preah Vihear, near Sen Rongroeung village in Choam Ksan district’s Morodok commune.
During the patrol, the four officers raided an illegal logging site in the area, confiscating 11 chainsaws and two AK-47 assault rifles, according to Major Chhorn Sam Ol, a penal police officer at Preah Vihear provincial police.
Another official put the number of seized chainsaws at six.
The officers decided to stay in the area and complete their patrol. At around 1am, unknown gunmen approached under the cover of darkness and opened automatic fire on the officers.
“The perpetrators used AK rifles to fire on the victims,” said Sam Ol. “After firing and killing the victims, the perpetrators managed to escape successfully from the place.”
Darong and Yoush died on the spot. Sorphoan was hit but managed to get away along with another police officer.
The Forestry Administration cooperates with local, provincial, border and military police, as well as the army, to halt illegal logging in protected forests.
Joint patrols and raids have been conducted in the area since 2000, assisted by environmental organisation Wildlife Conservation Society, which provides funds and training.
Though officers involved in forest protection in the area get around four or five death threats per year, this is the first time that any of them have been killed in the line of duty, Setha said, though it is common for loggers to call the officers’ phones promising to kill them after officers confiscate logging equipment such as chainsaws.
“It was the first time our police officers were attacked and shot to death by a group of sawmill operators in province,” said Sam Ol.
“This is a lesson learned for our team,” said Senha. “We need to be careful after confiscating [equipment], and we have to be careful when camping in the forest. At night, they can come to kill us. In the future, our team needs to seriously think about its strategy.”