Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Three killed in jungle when patrol comes under fire; fellow authorities suspected

Three killed in jungle when patrol comes under fire; fellow authorities suspected

The body of one of the people killed in a shootout near Mondulkiri’s border with Vietnam yesterday afternoon. Photo supplied
The body of one of the people killed in a shootout near Mondulkiri’s border with Vietnam yesterday afternoon. Photo supplied

Three killed in jungle when patrol comes under fire; fellow authorities suspected

A routine forest patrol by Ministry of Environment officials and a conservationist escorted by Military Police in Mondulkiri’s Keo Seima Wildilife Sanctuary took a deadly turn yesterday when a shoot-out with Cambodian border officials erupted, leaving three dead, officials said last night.

Kong Putheara, Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary director, said that yesterday afternoon one of his rangers, along with a National Military Police official and a Wildlife Conservation Society staffer, were on patrol in O’Raing district near the O’Huch border crossing with Vietnam.

“But in the evening, around 5pm, we got information from the local authorities and the forestry activists near the area claiming to have a problem with a shootout, and they said two people died and one got injured in the jungle,” he said

Putheara stressed that as of last night he had no clear information as to the cause of the shootout and that more investigation was needed, but said it could be concluded that the shootout was “related to illegal logging in our protected area”.

Mondulkiri Governor Svay Sam Eng, meanwhile, said there had been a confrontation between the group and a “border force” stationed there.

This was corroborated by Bou Bun Chheat, O’Raing district police chief, who identified the officials killed at the scene as Theun Soknay, a ranger team leader from the Mondulkiri Provincial Environment Department, and Military Police officer Sok Vothana. “Even though in this case we do not know clearly yet, we just know that the victims had an armed conflict with the Chamkar Chek border police post,” he said.

Phan Setha, a technical adviser for Wildlife Conservation Society based in the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, said that a WCS staff member named Thol Khna was mortally wounded in the shooting and died on the way to a hospital in Sen Monorom.

“He is a [Geographic Information Systems] staff, and they were patrolling along the border in O’Huch,” he said.

National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said the incident occurred about 20 kilometres from the border, and that prior to the incident, a report came through to Border Police Unit 621 that an environmental official had confiscated two chainsaws.

“The head of Unit 621 had ordered the head of the border post to check on it,” he said, noting that the head of the border police post went there with two soldiers. It was after that, he said, that authorities heard about the shootout.

When other authorities arrived on the scene, he said, everyone except for the dead and injured were gone, including the border unit members and soldiers. Other officials also said they did not know where the shooters were.

Ministry of Environment spokesman Sao Sopheap said he had been informed of the incident and the ministry was “verifying the case”.

Reached last night, National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy said that Military Police officials have been sent to investigate the situation but that the reasons behind the shootout were still unknown.

Chhum Socheat, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, confirmed there was an armed confrontation.

“It took place at the Vietnam border . . . a confrontation between the group and the border force who was stationed there,” he said, before later saying loggers might be responsible.

Ken Sereyrotha, the country director for WCS Cambodia, said he was “very shocked”, and was awaiting further information, but noted the area is rife with logging.

According to Sereyrotha the patrol systems and schedules are decided by staffers at the local level, who in turn liaise with authorities.

“We work closely with government and we share our consultation strategies and patrol schedules, and it’s a joint effort with government,” he said.

“We work with Military Police because they are mandated to protect, they are eligible to hold guns and weapons,” while MoE officers are not, he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Draft law on state of emergency pending finalisation

    Prime Minister Hun Sen will lead a top-level meeting on Tuesdays to review the draft law on imposing a state of emergency. Meantime, he has decided to close all casinos in Cambodia effective April 1. In the press conference after the National Assembly met today, Hun

  • State of emergency on table amid pandemic

    Prime Minister Hun Sen, his deputy prime ministers and legal team will meet on Tuesday to review the draft law on declaring a state of emergency, as Covid-19 cases rose to 107 in the Kingdom on Monday. Speaking at a press conference after a parliament meeting

  • Stranded passengers petition UK for help

    Some 10,521 people have signed an online petition calling on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and relevant officials to fly nearly 200 passengers out of Cambodia. The petition is targeted at 15,000 people. Most of the passengers are British nationals, who are stranded in Cambodia after airlines cancelled

  • No word on state of emergency

    The National Assembly (NA) said it will postpone all unnecessary meetings in line with guidance from the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) amid the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it did not say when or how it will debate the “state of emergency”

  • Many in limbo as tension heightens

    As the Kingdom restricts travel and prepares for a state of emergency, some foreigners in Cambodia are scrambling for a way home. Foreign embassies in Phnom Penh are making efforts to get their citizens out, but cancelled flights have become common due to the coronavirus

  • Covid-19 Pandemic: Force majeure and legal consequences

    Is the Covid-19 pandemic considered an event of force majeure? The World Health Organisation declared the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak a pandemic on March 11. Following this declaration, the Ministry of Health and other ministries have taken various legal and administrative measures to prevent the rapid