A fisheries official was killed and another seriously injured in an exchange of gunfire when they tried to crack down on illegal fishermen in Kompong Chhnang province, officials said this week.
Kompong Chhnang Police Chief Kong Sokhon said Tuesday the two men were shot when they confronted three armed men suspected of trying to smuggle at least 10,000 young fish to Phnom Penh.
Kong Sokhon said three fishery officials and three RCAF soldiers were patrolling the Tonle Sap about 8 pm one evening last weekend when they encountered the men on two small boats.
Cambodia’s Fisheries Department Director Ly Kim Han said the three men armed with assault rifles apparently caught the fishery officials by surprise. “They opened fire at our officials first, and then we lost control,” he said.
After a brief exchange of gunfire, the three men escaped overboard, leaving behind the fish and their two boats.
Ly Kim Han said the fisheries department has asked the court to issue an arrest warrant to nab the trio, believed to have been from the Cambodian Navy.
Army members previously have been accused of the fish smuggling, which is illegal between May and October during spawning and hatching season.
The ban is lifted in November when the fish are larger. Illegally caught fish are often kept in captivity until they are large enough to be used in paste and soups.
In August, the two prime ministers ordered the Defense and Interior ministries to withdraw forces from the areas where the theft of baby fish was rampant. The areas included Phnom Penh, Kompong Chhnang, Kompong Cham, Prey Veng and Kandal provinces.
Since then, fishermen have paid about 3 million riel in fines for defying the ban.
Ly Kim Han this week characterized the crackdown as “60 percent” successful.