Forest Patrols Beefed Up Since Murder; Still No Charges

Authorities have yet to charge anyone for the fatal shooting of a forest ranger and a police officer in Preah Vihear province nearly a month after they were attacked while on an overnight patrol for illegal loggers.

Seang Narong, a ranger for the Forestry Administration’s Chheb division, and Sap Yous, a Chheb district police officer, were part of a four-man team patrolling Preah Roka forest when they were shot while sleeping in their hammocks in the early hours of November 7 by a group of assailants who escaped into the forest.

In the days that followed, five civilians and a soldier were arrested as suspects in the shooting, but were only charged with illegal logging. A second soldier was also arrested as a suspect and has begun serving a 10-year jail sentence for a robbery conviction he was handed in absentia in 2001.

On Thursday, provincial court deputy prosecutor Seng Meng Srun said all seven men were still being investigated for the double murder, but that none of them—or anyone else—had been charged in connection with it.

“There is nothing new about the suspects and they are still under investigation. I can’t give you any more details because it is being handled by the court,” he said.

Sok Khemrin, deputy head of the National Police’s central judicial department, which has been assisting with the investigation, said he was barred from speaking with the media. He referred questions to National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith.

Mr. Chantharith said investigators were focusing on one of the men who had been charged with illegal logging, but that he did not know who.

“Of the six, there is one suspect related to the case,” he said. “One is still under inquiry by the court…but not charged yet.”

In the days after the murders, a police officer who escaped the attack with a minor bullet wound told a reporter that the second soldier arrested as a suspect, Chan Loeung, had called him about a month earlier and threatened to kill him because his son-in-law had recently been arrested for illegal logging in Preah Roka forest. Police have found six bullet casings at the murder scene.

However, Noun Sokhom, a deputy director of the Forestry Administration’s Preah Vihear cantonment, said investigators had yet to find any evidence linking the arrested men—or anyone else—to the attack.

“We are not able to accuse the jailed suspects of shooting the officers dead because we don’t have evidence, but police are investigating,” he said.

Since the shootings, Mr. Sokhom said, local authorities had continued to carry out overnight patrols in the forest, but had increased the size of the teams to between five and 10 people for added security.

He said the teams had found the evidence of new illegal logging since the murders, but had yet to catch any more loggers.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which has been helping to train and equip the patrols, has described Preah Roka as a hotbed of illegal logging because it is a regional pocket of evergreen forest packed with tree species highly valued for their timber.

The NGO has been working with the government to turn the forest into a protected area and was expecting approval to be only months away. But country director Ross Sinclair said the murders had put those efforts on hold.

“Once the investigation has been completed and those held responsible for the killings brought to justice, WCS is committed to working with the Forestry Administration to protect the site through the establishment of [a] new protected forest, the Prey Preah Roka Protected Forest,” he said by email.

But at the moment, he added, “it is not considered safe enough to send non-patrol staff into the area, so the process of formally protecting the site is not progressing at this stage.”

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