Police in Preah Vihear’s Choam Ksan district yesterday questioned 10 suspects in connection with the shooting deaths of two officers during a Saturday morning patrol against illegal logging.
According to provincial police chief Brigadier General Sy Kiri, all of the suspects are illegal loggers who had been busted in prior patrols. None have yet been formally charged.
After their interviews, the suspects were turned over to the penal police unit at Choam Ksan district for additional questioning.
By yesterday afternoon, penal police had questioned and released seven of the suspects, according to Captain Seng Savuth, chief of the district’s penal unit.
“According to their answers, they all denied that they were related to the killing of the two victims. And police have also found that they were not involved with this case . . . so we have released them back to their homes,” he said. “Police are now summoning the other three suspects for questioning.”
Savuth said police believe at least 10 perpetrators were involved in the ambush that killed provincial forestry officer Seang Darong and Chheb district police officer Sath Yoush, and wounded police officer Theth Sorphoan.
A preliminary investigation concluded that illegal loggers were responsible for the attack.
Preah Vihear forestry official Pan Setha said that this attack was the first of its kind in 15 years, even though officers sometimes get phone calls from men threatening to kill them when they confiscate logging equipment such as chainsaws. Officers in the area get about four or five death threats per year, he said.
The four officers had raided an illegal logging site and confiscated chainsaws and rifles shortly before falling victim to an attack, according to Kiri.
Setha said that finding the killers is a high priority for the government, and authorities are trying to be cautious with the investigation to avoid anyone slipping away.
He added that forestry officials and their partners among the police forces will most likely rethink their patrol strategy, in light of the loggers’ growing brazenness.
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.