Six men suspected of involvement in the weekend murder of a local police officer and a forest ranger in Preah Vihear province were charged Wednesday with illegal logging, while authorities continue to search for evidence linking them to the double homicide, a court official said.
The six were arrested Monday in connection with the fatal shooting of Chheb district police officer Sap Yous and Seang Narong, a ranger from the Forestry Administration’s Chheb division, early Saturday morning while they were on an overnight patrol for illegal loggers in Preah Roka forest.
Preah Vihear Provincial Court prosecutor Ly Lon said that one of the six, Sok Bunroeun, was a soldier from Brigade 9 of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ Division 3, and that all of them were charged with illegal logging and the unauthorized use of a chainsaw to harvest forest products. The logging charge, to which the men have confessed, carries a prison term of up to five years.
“We charged the six people and they were sent to the provincial prison to be detained,” Mr. Lon said. “We asked the soldier and five loggers and they denied shooting dead the two officers. They told us they didn’t know about the murders because they were only hired to cut trees.
“We don’t have evidence to accuse them of committing the murders, so we detained them to wait for the Interior Ministry to investigate.”
Provincial police previously said that none of the six men were soldiers. Mr. Bunroeun’s identification as such, however, means that two soldiers are now suspected in the murders. Chan Loeung, another member of Brigade 9, was arrested in connection with the case on Tuesday.
Contacted yesterday, police officer Phet Sophoan, who was also on the overnight patrol—and escaped after being hit by a bullet fired by the assailants—said Mr. Loeung threatened to kill him about a month ago. Though Mr. Sophoan said he could not identify the gunmen in Saturday’s attack, he said he believed Mr. Loeung was involved.
“The senior soldier, Chan Loeung, was angry, and took revenge because a group of my officers arrested his son-in-law and put him in jail last month when he was caught logging,” he said.
Mr. Sophoan claimed that high-ranking officers in Brigade 9 were heavily involved in the area’s illegal logging trade.
“The soldiers from Brigade 9 hire people to cut the trees, and the six loggers we arrested previously were hired by Brigade 9,” he said.
Brigade 9 officials could not be reached for comment. But Division 3 commander Srey Doek, who oversees the brigade, denied the logging accusations.
“I wish to deny that our soldiers are illegal loggers, because they understand clearly that they will be punished according to military rules if they do wrong,” he said.
“I have received the information that the two soldiers were brought in for questioning at the provincial police headquarters. But I wish to state that the police cannot accuse them of the murders if they don’t have evidence.”
Deputy provincial police chief Khat Hun said Mr. Loeung was still being questioned and had not yet been charged with any crime.