Villagers and police yesterday offered conflicting accounts of an incident on Friday in the Prey Lang protected forest, with villagers claiming they were intimidated by rangers for patrolling the forest and police maintaining the villagers were poaching.
Thy Vichet, 33, one of the community members in Kampong Thom’s Sandan district, claimed he and five other villagers were patrolling their O’Daskor community forest in Meanrith commune at around 8pm when they spotted a fishing net used to catch monkeys, and took it with them while they continued to patrol. They then encountered environmental rangers.
“We were patrolling the forest, and I wondered why the motorbikes of rangers were coming here at that time, [and then] I heard a few rounds fired,” he said.
Vichet said that he, his uncle Nhem Chheng and fellow patroller Kim Smach were detained by the rangers, while the other three villagers escaped, adding that a ranger began kicking his uncle.
“One of them pointed the rifle at me when I tried to assist my uncle, and shot another [round] near my leg,” he claimed.
Vichet said the rangers demanded a letter from them showing they were allowed to patrol, but they didn’t have one. The rangers also accused them of poaching, which he denied.
He said the rangers then took them to a station, and forced them to thumbprint a document, accepting they had committed poaching, before releasing them a few hours later.
Tith Samnang, provincial deputy police chief, said he sent four officers to investigate on Sunday and Monday. The investigation concluded that the villagers were hunting and the rangers shot in the air to stop them.
However, he said he had also educated six rangers not to fire their guns without proper cause or to detain villagers without informing police.