Breast-Feeding Mother Injured in Police Shootout With Smugglers

A 23-year-old woman was shot in the shoulder while breast-feeding her baby during a shootout between police and smugglers attempting to transport illegally logged wood through Kratie province on Thursday night, according to authorities.

A driver and one suspect were arrested but a second driver and the shooters escaped, said provincial police chief Chuong Sieng Hak.

He said it was about midnight when a team of police, military police and Forestry Administration officers stopped a pair of trucks hauling wood along National Road 7 through Snuol district. Two Lexus SUVs following the trucks also stopped, he said, from which a group of men quickly emerged and opened fire.

“The offenders opened fired on the authorities to rescue the truck drivers so that they could not give evidence, but our authorities responded,” Mr. Sieng Hak said.

Though none of the officers or suspects were injured, he said, one bullet—he did not know whose—pierced the wall of a nearby home and struck Hiel Ry in the shoulder.

“The bullet hit her in the right shoulder while she was breast-feeding her 2-month-old baby. She was sent to the district referral hospital immediately,” he said.

Provincial court prosecutor Ty Sovinthal said the arrested suspects included one of the truck drivers, Ngan Menghong, 31, and another man known only as Pov. He said they both have been charged with stocking and transporting forest products without permission under the country’s Forestry Law. Mr. Pov, though not one of the suspected shooters, was also charged with obstructing the work of authorities.

Mr. Sovinthal said both suspects have confessed to their crimes and claimed to be transporting the wood for a local dealer named Mr. Thy, who was previously known to authorities.

“We are now investigating this case because we have received some information about the wood dealer. We will arrest him if we find that he is involved in this case,” Mr. Sovinthal said.

He said the nine confiscated logs of luxury-grade Thnong wood, about 3 meters long each, would have fetched about $60,000 on the market and were being held at the local Forestry Administration office.

Local Forestry Administration cantonment chief Soy Sarith confirmed that the seized timber was at his office but declined further comment.

The incident was the third this month involving authorities firing on suspected timber smugglers.

In Kompong Thom province two weeks ago, a suspected smuggler escaped after leading police on a 5-km car chase, abandoning his vehicle and firing on authorities before disappearing in a warren of back alleys.

Earlier in the month in Mondolkiri province, a national police officer shot at a car suspected of ferrying illegally logged wood after it failed to heed a command to stop. The gunfire killed one man and injured another. No wood was found in the car.

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