A soldier who wounded an ethnic Bunong man when he fired in his direction while guarding a rubber concession in Mondolkiri province earlier this month will not be arrested because the victim suffered only a “small injury,” police said Monday.
The gunman, who has not been identified, allegedly fired his AK-47 assault rifle into the ground toward Tek Ngiem, 28, when he and a group of fellow villagers strayed onto an 8,000-hectare concession belonging to the Khmer Rubber company while checking animal traps they had set.
Either the bullet or a piece of rock—doctors refuse to say which—became lodged in Mr. Ngiem’s torso.
Military police initially said they suspected the solider, who disappeared immediately following the shooting, fled to his home in Kratie province.
But Monday, Mondolkiri provincial police chief Nhem Vanny said the soldier had returned to his job with Khmer Rubber and would not be punished.
“We have found the gunman, but we will not arrest him because it was only a small injury,” Mr. Vanny said, adding that the shooter was a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldier.
“First he fled because he panicked, but he came back to the company two days later and we instructed him not to shoot people in the future,” he said.
“I know that the gunman is a little guilty, but I have asked the company’s manager to pay for [the victim’s] medical treatment,” Mr. Vanny said.
Doctors at the Mondolkiri provincial hospital refused to operate on Mr. Ngiem for several days before rights group Adhoc finally brought him to Phnom Penh, where the shrapnel was removed at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital on Wednesday.
“The doctor told me that there were three pieces removed,” Mr. Ngiem said by telephone from the Phnom Penh guesthouse where he is recovering from the operation. “But when I asked what the pieces were, he said, ‘Why do you need to know if it is rock or bullet?’”
And despite the assurances of Mr. Vanny, the Mondolkiri police chief, that Khmer Rubber would pay for the surgery, Mr. Ngiem said that he received “nothing from the company. Adhoc paid.”
Some 300 ethnic Bunong villagers protested outside the Bosra commune office in Pech Chreada district Monday, demanding, among a host of other grievances, that Mr. Ngiem’s shooter be brought to justice.
The forest-dwelling Bunong, who live and farm communally, have in recent years seen a dramatic increase in the illegal logging of their ancestral land, parts of which have been signed over to private companies in the form of economic land concessions.
Adding to the community’s woes is a social land concession awarded in 2009 to hundreds of Cham Muslim families from Kompong Cham province that overlaps with territory the Bunong have long claimed as their own.
Khmer Rubber, meanwhile, is building a canal that will separate the Bunong from the land where they hunt animals and source timber for building, while two other rubber firms, Socfin and Dak Lak, have already blocked trails the Bunong regularly use to navigate the area, according to Sek Sophorn, a former national coordinator for the International Labor Organization who is now working as a lawyer for the minority community.
Bosra commune, Mr. Sophorn said, “has changed from a natural environment to rubber plantations—and the locals have not been consulted.”
“The Bunong are treated as though they are illegal [residents],” he said.
Last month, the Bunong in Bosra commune were prevented from marching to celebrate their heritage on World Indigenous Day when local authorities decided the planned parade would “confuse tourists.”