An environmental ranger and a community forest member on Tuesday were released from prison under court supervision following their brief detention after allegedly firing at a suspect hauling timber within a protected area supported by the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation in Battambang province.
The Ministry of Environment ranger, Sok Toeut, 43, and the forest community member, Dieb Somuntha, 60, were patrolling the Samlot protected area on Friday when they spotted a tractor loaded with wood and ordered the driver to stop. When he refused, Somuntha allegedly shot at him.
Toeut is employed by the ministry but also receives part of his salary from the foundation, founded by Angelina Jolie to promote conservation in Cambodia’s northwest. Somuntha also receives a small salary from the organisation to patrol.
Oun Fai, chief of the crime office with the Battambang Provincial Police, said the man transporting the wood, Duch Thy, 58, filed a complaint to police, which led to the arrest of Toeut, Somuntha and two other rangers, who were released shortly afterwards on Sunday.
Fai claimed after Thy refused to stop, Somuntha became angry and took Toeut’s AK-47 rifle and fired at the tractor.
“[Thy] had a chainsaw, [and was] driving a tractor to look for wood at the protected area,” he said. “He got some wood to make charcoal. They saw him and fired to flatten the tyres of the tractor hauling the wood.”
Both sides committed a crime, he acknowledged, though Thy was not arrested.
Toeut was charged with “carelessness” in handling his weapon under Article 21 of the Law on the Management of Weapons, Explosives and Ammunition, which carries a maximum two-year prison sentence. Somuntha was charged with “intentionally causing damage” based on Article 410 of the Criminal Code, which also carries a maximum two-year prison term.
Thy, meanwhile, was charged with clearing forestland under Article 59 of the Protected Areas Law, though he remains free.
“He used a chainsaw and drove a tractor into the prohibited forest, which is a protected area. Therefore, he is also guilty,” Fai said. “However, the court will make a decision to arrest or not.”
Tieng Sambou, spokeswoman for the provincial court, said Investigating Judge Ly Sokha decided to release the duo under court supervision after questioning them on Tuesday. Sambou wasn’t able to provide further comment.
Kong Mony Chan, director of the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, declined to comment on the case.