Mondulkiri Provincial Police Chief Ouk Samnang has been transferred to the Penal Department at the Interior Ministry of Interior a month after three forest patrollers were gunned down in an ambush near the border.
Lao Sokha, the former Kandal provincial deputy police chief, will replace Samnang, who assumed the position less than eight months ago.
Mondulkiri provincial administration spokesman Heak Sophan denied that the transfer had anything to do with the shooting in Mondulkiri’s Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary.
Six suspects, including RCAF Regiment 103 head Keut Veha and O’Rolear border post chief Phal Penh, face charges in the shooting and are suspected of shooting the patrollers after they confiscated logging equipment.
“It is normal to change civil servants,” Sophan said yesterday, noting that the former provincial police chief had been stationed in Mondulkiri for “nearly eight months”.
However, local media accounts of the appointment ceremony for Sokha reported that National Police Chief Neth Savoeun scolded authorities for their handling of the shooting as well as the deadly fire that ripped through Sen Monorom market two weeks later.
National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith declined to answer questions about the new appointments besides saying, “Change was needed.” Samnang becomes deputy head of the penal department.
Political analyst Meas Nee said that the government’s practice of reshuffling underperforming officials is often a way to shield them from public accountability.
“This is not so strange if you look at the culture of the party,” Nee said. “This is the way they keep people loyal to the party.”
Several high-ranking administrators and law enforcement officials in Mondulkiri have been implicated in illegal logging operations over the years. Last year, a National Police investigation found that more than a dozen police, military police and army officials had colluded with Vietnamese timber traders, and while some were reportedly transferred to other jurisdictions, no officials were ever prosecuted.
Additional reporting by Daphne Chen