Cambodian soldiers reportedly killed Wildlife Conservation Society environmentalist who targeted illegal logging, 2 others


PHNOM PENH from Cambodia – Soldiers in northeastern Cambodia, a region where illegal logging and smuggling are commonplace, killed a ranger, military police officer and conservation officer in apparent retaliation for seizing equipment from illegal loggers, officials said on Wednesday.

Keo Sopheak, a senior environmental official in Mondulkiri province, said the three-person team was attacked late Tuesday afternoon after patrolling the Keo Siema Wildlife Conservation Sanctuary . He said the deceased civilian was a Cambodian employee of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

The three are the latest victims of an alarming trend in recent years, the assassination of conservationists by parties seeking the financial exploitation of natural resources. Around 200 activists have been killed around the world in each of the past two years, according to British watch group Global Witness.

“The three were not killed by thieves or a guerrilla group, but they were shot by government armed forces who supported the illegal logging,” Keo Sopheak said. The conservation team had previously confiscated chainsaws and motorcycles from some Vietnamese foresters illegally, he said.

A copy of a report sent by Mondulkiri Police Chief Ouk Samnang to National Police Chief Neth Savouen seen by the Associated Press identified three border security officials who it said shot and killed the conservation team.

The report named Phal Penh, a border police officer, Keut Vehar and Ngur, military border officers, as shooters. Cambodian security forces are known to collaborate with illegal loggers who smuggle timber into neighboring Vietnam.

Keo Sieman Sanctuary has precious woods and is a habitat for many wildlife species. The multi-million dollar illicit timber trade plagues much of Southeast Asia, with China being the main market and transit point. Trade is vast even though the region has suffered heavily from deforestation for several decades.

In early 2016, Cambodia set up a special committee headed by Army General Sao Sokha to crack down on log smuggling to neighboring Vietnam, and stern Prime Minister Hun Sen said he had cleared helicopters to fire rockets at smugglers of illegally cut timber, but there has been no public evidence of a major crackdown.

Keo Sopheak and other officials said a special committee has been set up to investigate Tuesday’s attack.

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