A colonel in the Royal Cambodian Navy yesterday denied accusations by the NGO Wildlife Alliance that naval officers opened fire on patrolling rangers on the Tatai River in Koh Kong province as they tried seizing an allegedly illegal shipment of rosewood.
Colonel Tep Vuthy instead accused military police of colluding with the Southern Cardamom Forest Protection Unit of Tatai Station, claiming they were on duty the night of October 10 in Mondul Seima district’s Bak Khlang commune.
“I conducted an investigation and found that my [naval] subordinates did not transport the timber or open fire,” Vuthy said yesterday, adding that his officials could not have opened fire anyway, as they were unarmed.
“It’s ridiculous. I have no more time to meet with them [the Wildlife Alliance]. I do not have any rancour. Everything we do is to protect this nation.”
At about 11pm on October 10, four men leapt out of the beached boat seeking cover in nearby forest when rangers attempted to board, then opened fire, according to statements published on Wildlife Alliance’s website.
A six-hour stand-off between the rangers and the alleged naval officials followed until rangers managed to gain access to the boat once high tide commenced, confiscating 12 tonnes of rosewood along with the vessel, the NGO said.
A Wildlife Alliance official unauthorised to speak to the press provided the Post with a different version of events than Vuthy.
“At around 11pm, the patrol unit encountered a large wooden boat transporting 12 tonnes of [rosewood] harvested inside the Southern Cardamoms protected forest that was stranded in the low tide sand only 150 metres from Koh Yor Navy Battalion base,” the official said yesterday.
Despite saying naval officials had no involvement in the incident, Vuthy said an officer charged with monitoring the area had been temporarily suspended, but refused to reveal the officer’s identity as the matter was being dealt with internally.
“In general, after getting a complaint, we need to take some kind of action against officials, even if they did nothing wrong,” Vuthy said.
Such a violent response by officials will not be tolerated, the Wildlife Alliance source said.
“This shooting by the Royal Cambodia Navy officers is not acceptable. They should have provided support to the patrol unit instead of attacking them and stopping them from doing their job,” the official said, adding that shooting at authorised agents set a bad example for every tier of government.
Wildlife Alliance’s founder and CEO Suwanna Gauntlett along with military police officials could not be reached for comment yesterday despite multiple attempts to reach them.