Three ethnic Vietnamese fishermen, including one woman, were shot dead in Pursat province’s Krakor district Monday afternoon allegedly by Fisheries Administration officials who claimed they killed the three in self-defense, police and rights workers said Tuesday.
The officials involved in the killings have since fled, said district police chief Bin Vanna citing a Sna Ansa commune police report.
According to the commune police report, an unknown number of armed Fisheries officials, traveling in two boats, were confiscating equipment from fishermen operating illegally in a sanctuary area.
Angered by the confiscation, a fishing boat allegedly rammed one of the two Fisheries vessels, knocking an official into the water.
A Fisheries official in the second boat then opened fire on the two men and a woman with an AK-47 assault rifle, allegedly because they were attempting to attack the officer in the water with knives.
The Fisheries officials immediately fled the scene and reported the shooting to the police, but stated that they did not know if anybody had been killed in the incident, Bin Vanna said. As a result, no arrests were made at that time, he added.
Bin Vanna said that the three fishermen—a married couple and a fisherman colleague—were each killed by a single bullet wound, though he did not know where on the body the victims were shot.
Enraged by the triple killing, a mob of local fishermen descended on a floating Fisheries Administration office later that day and set it ablaze.
Bin Vanna said that it was only after the mob attacked the office that police learned that three people had been killed, but by that point all Fisheries officials in the area had fled.
Police arrested one fisherman for the burning of the office and are searching for six other men, Bin Vanna said.
Fisheries Administration Director Nao Thuok said his department was still mostly in the dark as to what happened or even if his officials had a hand in the shootings.
“We are not yet sure [if] the death of the three people is from the Fisheries Administration officials…or the shooting may be from a third party,” he said.
Nao Thuok said that he has not been able to contact any of his officials from the area, adding that his department will conduct an investigation into the shooting.
The Fisheries Administration will file a complaint with the Pursat Provincial Court over the burning of the floating office, he said.
Puth Sambath, a provincial investigator for local rights group Adhoc, said that it has been difficult to determine exactly what touched off the shooting because witnesses have been reticent to come forward. He said this was likely because fishermen who witnessed the shooting fear they will be arrested too.
Puth Sambath added that he does not believe that anti-Vietnamese discrimination played any role in the violence.
“In the past Cambodian fishermen have also been shot and killed,” he said.
Vietnamese Embassy spokesman Trinh Ba Cam said that his embassy would not comment on the incident, or confirm the nationality of the victims, until the police complete their investigation.