MILITARY and police units in the remote northern province of Preah Vihear stand accused
of trafficking in endangered wildlife parts.
This was the message conveyed to participants of a tiger conservation workshop in
the Preah Vihear provincial capital of T'beng Meanchey on March 29.
Provincial forestry officer Kong Bun Houn reported to the assembled group of provincial
government, military and police officials that military and economic police had been
hired by wildlife traders to provide safe escort for the skins and bones of three
tigers shot on March 21 in Chom Khsan district.
"A group of military and economic police took the bones from Preah Vihear in
the back of a military truck, hidden under automatic weapons and mines," said
Houn had been alerted to the illegal transaction by a rival wildlife trader and then
confirmed the story by locating the hunter who had shot the tigers. The high prices
commanded by tiger parts is suspected to be the main factor behind the police involvement
in the illegal wildlife trade.
According to Houn, the hunter who shot the tigers claimed to have been paid US$185
per kilogram for the bones of the three tigers, which weighed in at 11.5, 12 and
13 kilograms respectively.
Provincial military and police officials present at the workshop made no effort to
deny Houn's charges, but were quick to distance their own subordinates from responsibility.
Sim Souy, Military Police Chief for Preah Vihear, insisted that it was impossible
than any of his officers could have been involved in the matter.
"The days when the bones were supposed to have been taken to Phnom Penh, all
of my men were confined to base for special training," Souy explained. "Only
three of my officers were outside the base and they were manning roadblocks."
Souy openly voiced his suspicions that military police units from outside Preah Vihear
had been responsible for the crime. "The military police who did this may have
come from Kampong Thom," he said.
Preah Vihear military commander Som Heanly expressed doubt whether the tiger bone
transference had involved military police at all, instead pointing the finger of
guilt at members of the roving Second Regiment.
"Second Regiment soldiers are separate from provincial military units and can
travel freely between provinces," Heanly explained.
Him Sarin, Vice-director of the Wildlife and Forestry Office in Preah Vihear, alleged
that military police units were not confining their illegal wildlife trading practices
to tigers. Sarin accused MPs of having killed three female elephants in Chom Khsan
district in February and then selling the meat.
Men Pimean, Director of the Wildlife Protection Office of the Department of Forestry
and Wildlife in Phnom Penh, informed the Post that he had specifically invited police
and military officials to the Preah Vihear tiger conservation seminar in order to
confront them with charges of collusion in the hunting of endangered species.
"Military units in your district are using land mines to kill banteng [an endangered
species of wild cattle], what are you prepared to do about it?" Pimean asked
a Rovieng district official present at the workshop.
The Rovieng district official's response reflected the difficulties of wildlife protection
measures in the face of active official connivance in the endangered wildlife trade.
"It's difficult to advise the military in this situation," the official
told Pimean. "They have guns and I don't."