A police official was shot and killed at close range in Ratanakkiri province Sunday by a man believed to have been hunting for an outspoken ethnic minority leader, police said.
Bokeo district Deputy police Chief Buth Sophat and several other officers went to the home of a man police had been told was looking for Highlander Association President Dam Chanthy, provincial Deputy police Chief Hor Ang said Monday.
The man, identified only as Ny, was sitting in front of his home drinking rice wine when the officers arrived at 4 pm, Hor Ang said.
When they asked him to come to the district police headquarters, Hor Ang said, the man asked them to wait in front of his house so he could get a shirt.
Buth Sophat was sitting on his police motorcycle in front of the house when a shot from an AK-47 was fired from the house, hitting the deputy chief in the chest and sending the other officers running for cover, Hor Ang said.
The gunman then walked out of the house and shot Buth Sophat twice in the stomach before running off, Hor Ang said.
The deputy police chief died at the scene and police are still searching for the gunman.
“We are working hard on this case,” Hor Ang said. “We are running behind him. The information is being disseminated to all policemen in the province.”
Two days earlier, two men had visited Dam Chanthy’s farm in Bokeo district, about 3 km from Bokeo town, asking for Dam Chanthy, she said.
“My brother told them I had not come that day,” said Dam Chanthy, who has been educating ethnic minority villagers about their land rights for years, on Monday.
They returned Saturday morning and were told the same thing. Neither of the men, one of who was identified as Ny, was armed at the time, she said.
But later that night, they turned up at the farm again, this time with an AK-47, which they pointed at her brother.
“They asked for me,” Dam Chanthy said. “My brother told them that I was not there, that I did not go there that day.”
One of the men ordered her brother not to look at him and told him that if the men’s visit was reported to police, they would shoot him dead, Dam Chanthy said.
“He was angry with my brother,” Dam Chanthy said. “He shot one bullet in between his two legs.”
The man told her brother that he had been paid to kill her, she added, noting it was only a stroke of luck that she was not at the farm when the two men arrived.
“If I had been there I would have been killed,” Dam Chanthy said. “I usually go to the farm on Saturday, sometimes with my husband.”
The following day, Dam Chanthy lodged a complaint with local Adhoc officials and district police—prompting Buth Sophat to go to Ny’s home.
“This was an assassination attempt on my life,” Dam Chanthy said. “My family and I have never had any personal disputes with other people making them want to kill me. I am very concerned about my safety.”
Police did not reveal if they had information about the second man.
Rights workers in Ratanakkiri have long been threatened for their work, which often puts them in conflict with powerful officials from Cambodia and neighboring countries who want to develop the remote province, Adhoc representative Pen Bonnar said Monday.
“They use illegal means to take land from the people,” Pen Bonnar, who keeps the gate to his office locked most days, said Monday. “They want to take the land to sell it.”
Actually seeing someone try to kill an NGO official, and instead killing a police official, takes those fears to a new level, he added.
“I think this is very dangerous for NGOs,” he said.