- Three people have been shot and killed by soldiers in northeastern Cambodia, apparently in retaliation for seizing equipment from illegal loggers.
- A police report names three individuals as responsible for the killings: a border police officer and two border military officers.
- Illegal logging and timber smuggling is commonplace between Cambodia and Vietnam, and officials from both countries are often complicit.
- Around 200 land activists were murdered worldwide in 2016, up from 185 in 2015.
Three people have been shot and killed by soldiers in northeastern Cambodia, according to officials as reported by The Associated Press. Those killed were a conservation worker, a military policy officer and a forest protection ranger, reportedly because they had seized equipment from illegal loggers.
Keo Sopheak, a senior environmental official in Cambodia’s Mondulkiri province, said the attack happened Tuesday afternoon as the conservation team was patrolling in Keo Siema Wildlife Sanctuary. Keo Sopheak said of the men killed was a Cambodian employee of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The U.S.-based NGO is running a project at Keo Seima aimed at conserving its forests and wildlife through capacity-building initiatives with local communities.
According to a statement provided by WCS, those killed were Ministry of Environment ranger Teurn Soknai, military police officer Sek Wathana, and WCS SMART officer Thul Khna.
Keo Sopheak said the three-person team had confiscated chainsaws and motorcycles from illegal loggers from Vietnam. He reportedly asserted that they were killed by soldiers: “The three were killed not by robbers or a guerrilla group but they were shot by government armed forces who backed the illegal timber cutting.”
A report sent by Mondulkiri police chief Ouk Samnang to National Police Chief Neth Savouen and read by The Associated Press names three border security officials as responsible for the killings: Phal Penh, Keut Vehar and Ngur. Phal Penh was reportedly a border police officer while Keut Vehar and Ngur were border military officers.
Illegal logging and timber smuggling is commonplace between Cambodia and Vietnam. According to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a UK-based NGO, around 300,000 cubic meters of logs were smuggled from Cambodia to Vietnam between November 2016 and May 2017.
Most of Mondulkiri province is officially protected, but satellite data from the University of Maryland show areas of heavy tree cover loss along its border with Vietnam. Officials on both sides of the border are often complicit, according to watchdog groups like EIA, and reap huge financial rewards for enabling timber trafficking.
Tuesday’s alleged killings are hardly the first. In 2016, the most recent year for which data are available, around 200 activists were murdered around the globe as they tried to protect land from extraction activities like logging and mining, according to UK-based watchdog organization Global Witness. That number was up from 185 in 2015.
“Every day, rangers and law enforcement staff risk their lives to protect wildlife and forests,” said Ken Serey Rotha, Country Program Director of WCS Cambodia. “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.
“Soknai, Wathana, and Khna will always be remembered as conservation heroes.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated Feb. 1 to include information and photos from a statement issued by the Wildlife Conservation Society.
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