Sieng Darong, a Forestry Administration ranger, and Sab Yoh, a police officer, were shot and killed while patrolling a protected forest in Cambodia on Saturday morning. A third ranger wounded in the attack is expected to recover.
According to reports, Darong, 47, and Yoh, 29, were gunned down in their sleep. The two were part of a four-person team patrolling for illegal loggers and wildlife poachers in the Preah Vihear Protected Forest in the Choam Khsant district of northwestern Cambodia. The fourth member of the team escaped injury.
Lor Chann, a local coordinator for Cambodian human rights group Adhoc, said the attack was carried out by illegal loggers in retaliation against forestry administration officials who are cracking down on the illegal timber trade, but that corruption of government officials is at least partially responsible for making the illicit trade possible in the first place .
The Preah Vehear Protected Forest has more timber than the nearby Prey Lang forest, the destruction of which has received international attention, but deforestation in Preah Vehear has actually been worse, Chann told The Khmer Times.
“Sometimes, the local officials and some journalists close their eyes when they see deforestation cases because they also get money from the timber businesses or other companies,” he said.
According to a statement by the Wildlife Conservation Society, which has worked in the area since 2000, Darong and Yoh were executed just a few hours after confiscating chainsaws from an illegal logging site. They had remained in the area following the raid in order to continue their investigation.
“Darong and Yoh had patrolled Cambodia’s forests for many years, understood the dangers of their work, and were focused and determined to protect their forests and wildlife from criminals,” WCS Cambodia director Ross Sinclair said.
Darong, the patrol team leader, is survived by a wife and two daughters. Yoh, a patrol member since 2009, is survived by his wife and young daughter, according to WCS.
“Every day forestry rangers and law enforcement officers risk their lives to protect wildlife and the forests,” Sinclair said. “We should not allow criminals to destroy the forests of Cambodia and to threaten and murder those working tirelessly to protect this country’s natural heritage. Darong and Yoh will always be remembered as conservation heroes.”
Cambodia’s Minister of Environment, Say Samal, vowed that those responsible for the murder of the two forest rangers would be brought to justice.
“We are really sorry for losing our officers working in these difficult places,” Samal told The Khmer Times. “We must find the criminals and punish them according to the law. We are working with authorities to find them.”
Samal said that the threat of violence against forest rangers is so prevalent that the Environment Ministry is providing them with military training. He’s also hoping to change the status of forest rangers, who have a low rank and are not considered government officials.
“Most of the forest rangers are contracted officers. We want to promote them to become government officials,” Samal said. “I want to do it fast. Because there are more than 1,000 rangers in our national forests and parks.”