Gunmen Kill Two Rangers At Sanctuary

In an escalation of violence to­ward forest rangers, several uni­dentified men carrying AK-47s shot dead two Aural Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary rangers shortly after midnight Wednesday in a remote sub-station in Kompong Speu prov­ince, officials said.

The Ministry of Environment ran­­gers—Kim Poch, 39, and Nuon Chorn, 27—were killed by three gunmen who ambushed their station in Tropeang Chour commune after they had bedded down for the night, according to the director of the wildlife sanctuary, which was established in 1993 under royal decree.

“According to our report, three gunmen with AK-47s sneaked into our post and shot our rangers [while] they were sleeping,” sanctuary director Meas Nheim said Wednesday afternoon. “Each victim got shot five times,” he said.

A 22-year-old villager living at the ranger station was also shot and critically injured, said Mach Savoeun, Kompong Speu provincial police chief, who added that re­venge likely motivated the shooting.

Three other rangers at the scene escaped unharmed, Meas Nheim said.

The deaths of the two rangers come in the wake of the Sept 6 kil­ling of a 33-year-old wildlife ranger affiliated with the Cambodian NGO Natural Resource Protection Group, who was killed in his hammock by unidentified gunmen after they ambushed his forest camp late at night in the Carda­mom mountains of Koh Kong prov­ince.

The attacks have raised violence to levels not previously en­coun­tered in the remote patrol stations, according to Mike Appleton, project manager for the NGO Fauna & Flora International, which supports the sanctuary.

“These two incidents both ap­pear to have been quite well-organized, deliberate attacks on people try­ing to uphold the law,” Apple­ton said.

He said that the two rangers, in difficult circumstances, have done a particularly good job in the last 12 months of stopping illegal logging, land-grabbing and other illicit ac­tivities in the Aural sanctuary, which he said has seen an in­crease in lawlessness over the past two years.

Appleton said that in the past year, rangers shuttered 24 illegal sawmills and seized 83 chainsaws, 18 trucks, and over 1,000 cubic me­ters of illegally cut timber.

“What is particularly disturbing for us is that these [shootings] show that the people involved in these illegal businesses are prepared to take murderous action to protect their interests,” he said.

After the shootings, the gunmen looted the sub-station and stole three AK-47s, two motorbikes, a global positioning system and a set of handheld radios, according to Meas Nheim.

Meas Nheim and Appleton urged senior government officials and police to support a thorough investigation into the deaths.

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