Almost three months after two officers were murdered while on an anti-logging patrol in Preah Vihear protected forest, patrol teams in the area have changed tactics to improve safety and compensate for the loss of staff who resigned in the wake of the shootings.
The new strategy, started this month, was devised at an intensive nine-day training course organised in response to the killings and held in January by the Wildlife Conservation Society – which jointly manages the forest with the Forest Administration, which organise the patrols.
WCS technical adviser Alistair Mould said instead of small groups covering the areas surrounding five substations, one larger dedicated mobile unit would be assigned to scour the forest for poachers and illegal loggers.
The sub-stations will still be manned and able to respond in emergencies, Mould said, explaining that coverage, while reduced, would be “more focused”.
“This is our response to help improve the effectiveness of what the patrols are doing and counter this increase in illegal threats,” the WCS technical adviser said.
“The strategy is on an interim basis until the number of patrol team staff has increased within the protected forest.”
District police officer Sap Yuos and forestry officer Seang Darong were shot dead during an anti-illegal logging patrol on November 7, hours after they had confiscated seven chainsaws from illegal loggers.
Six loggers with alleged military ties and a soldier were arrested in the wake of the shooting, but nobody has been charged with the killings.
The Forestry Administration cooperates with local, provincial, border and military police, as well as the army, to patrol protected forests.
Speaking yesterday, the Forestry Administration’s Khim Pann, project manager for Preah Vihear Protected Forest, said two members of the patrol team resigned following the shooting, while three more, who were members of the military, were recalled to their base, leaving their force with just 12 people.
He said members of commune, regional and district forestry offices would be called upon to bolster the team’s numbers.
“After the shooting, some of our team were afraid, some resigned,” he said.
“The new approach, with a bigger group, is much safer when we are patrolling for illegal loggers and wildlife poachers.”