A Preah Vihear provincial police official on Thursday claimed that a soldier suspected of involvement in the weekend murder of a local police officer and a forest ranger had injured his head when he was taken to the murder scene as part of the investigation, though other officials said the soldier did not even accompany authorities.
Chan Loeung, a soldier with Brigade 9 of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ Division 3, was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion that he had played a role in the fatal shooting of Chheb district police officer Sap Yous and Chheb division Forestry Administration ranger Seang Narong while they were patrolling for illegal loggers in Preah Roka forest on Saturday morning.
Police officer Phet Sophoan, who was on the same patrol and was shot during the attack, claims that Mr. Loeung threatened to kill him about a month ago, after his unit arrested the soldier’s son-in-law for illegal logging.
Six other suspects, including a second Brigade 9 soldier, were arrested on Monday and have since been jailed on logging charges.
Thursday, deputy provincial police chief Khat Hun said that Mr. Loeung—who has yet to be charged—fell and hit his head during the investigation at the murder scene.
“Chan Loeung was injured in the forehead after he fell down while he was being escorted to the area to inspect the scene,” he said. “We will not send the suspect to court today because he is now at the provincial hospital for medical treatment.”
Mr. Hun declined to elaborate on the injury.
However, other officials among the about 100 people who went to the scene to investigate, said Mr. Loeung was not even on the trip.
Seng Meng Srun, a deputy prosecutor at the provincial court who went to the site, said the team included provincial police, National Police and Forestry Administration officials, but that none of the suspects were present.
“We’re on a full day trip into the forest to inspect the scene,” he said. “We did not bring any suspects to the scene because we came here to investigate the murder.”
Mr. Meng Srun also said he had not heard any reports that Mr. Loeung had been injured since his arrest.
Khim Pan, deputy director of the Forestry Administration’s Preah Vihear cantonment, who was on the investigating team, also said there were no suspects present.
“There were no suspects on the tour with the delegates,” he said.
Contacted again about the conflicting accounts of the trip, Mr. Hun said he was too busy to speak with a reporter.
The provincial referral hospital and a spokesman for the National Police could not be reached.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has been training and equipping forest patrollers in northern Preah Vihear since 2000.
WCS country program director Ross Sinclair, however, said Thursday that his NGO was temporarily keeping its staff out of the Preah Vihear Protected Forest, which borders Preah Roka.
“We pulled our team out of the field…until this situation is further clarified in terms of safety,” he said, adding that WCS staff would still be in the province.
Mr. Sinclair said the NGO was reviewing its security procedures, “and at some point in future, when we feel it is safe to return to the field, that’s what we’ll be doing.”
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)