Rights group worker says officials concerned about tourism initially covered up incident in which more than 30 travellers were threatened.
POLICE in Ratanakkiri province have yet to locate a group of men who on July 12 threatened to kill more than 30 domestic tourists following a confrontation in which the tourists happened upon the men as they were loading illegally felled timber onto trailers, Soy Thav, the police chief for Ratanakkiri's Lumphat district, told the Post Sunday.
I am telling my men to cooperate with local police... so that future tourists will not be afraid to visit.
"We are now investigating the case, and we know the identity of one member of the group who is a member of the provincial police," Soy Thav said.
He added that he planned to inform the Ratanakkiri provincial police chief about the suspect in an effort to bring the man and his accomplices in
The tourists were on their way to visit Katieng waterfall in Lumphat district when they encountered the group of five to six men as they were loading timber onto their trailers, said Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, who added that the men accused the tourists' guides of driving recklessly.
Later that day, the men, who were "carrying axes, stones and poles to attack [the tourists]", caught up with the group and "threatened to kill them and damage their vans", Pen Bonnar said.
He added that the threat prompted the tourists to cut their trip short and return to Phnom Penh. Local police escorted them on the return trip, he said.
Local officials said they were worried that news of the incident could harm the local tourism industry.
"This is a very big concern for the tourism site, and I have already requested that the district police deploy more officers to the commune to increase security," said Nget Vitou, deputy director of the provincial tourism department.
Though the incident occurred more than a week ago, Pen Bonnar said he believes reports of it did not surface immediately because tourism officials attempted to cover it up. He said area residents told him that the provincial tourism department "wanted to hide the incident to avoid a negative impact on the tourism industry".
On Sunday, however, Nget Vitou acknowledged that the incident could have turned violent.
"This is the first time that there has been a serious threat against tourists in that resort," he said. "I am telling my men to cooperate with local police in the search for the attackers in order maintain security and safety, so that future tourists will not be afraid to visit."