The three men arrested for the murder of 49-year-old journalist Taing Try in Kratie province on Sunday morning confessed to murdering the reporter after he threatened to tell authorities about their illegal logging activities, a police official said.
The victim, who was traveling with five other reporters investigating information that illegal luxury wood was being transported through the area, was shot in the head shortly after 1 a.m. on a dirt road in Snuol district’s Khsoem commune.
On Sunday, police arrested three men who all confessed to the murder. On Monday, police held a press conference during which the suspects admitted to the murder in front of local journalists, according to deputy provincial police chief Oum Phy.
“The hit men confessed to killing the victim because he threatened to report their logging activities to the court and the provincial forestry administration when one of the suspects refused to provide the reporters with his boat to cross the river,” he said.
The boat owner and alleged gunman was La Narong, a 32-year-old Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldier in Mondolkiri. The SUV used by the suspects, which flipped over 200 meters from the crime scene, was driven by Ben Hieng, chief of Sre Chhouk commune police in Mondolkiri province’s Keo Seima district. The third confessed accomplice was Khim Pheakdey, a 27-year-old Phnom Penh military police officer and former forest ranger in Keo Seima district.
“The suspects were all involved with illegal logging,” Mr. Phy said. “They had been drinking all evening and coincidentally met the victim along the road on their way home. He asked them to help free his car, but they got in a fight and [La Narong] pulled his K-59 handgun and shot him in the head.”
Chea Lyhieng, editor of the Raksmey Kon Khmer newspaper, who was with the victim shortly before he died, said he believed the suspects were part of a powerful illegal logging syndicate.
“The three hit men are strongmen who operate an illegal logging route between Mondolkiri, Kratie and Vietnam. But two strongmen brothers in this area stand behind them,” he said, referring to deputy Snuol district military police commander Chhun Khoeun and his brother, Chhun Phoeun, whose warehouse the reporters went to investigate on the night of the murder.
Mr. Khoeun on Monday said the case had nothing to do with him and denied that he had made a telephone call to the group of reporters on Sunday morning warning them to get away from the warehouse, as they claim.
“Call the provincial police—they have caught the killers already,” he said.
Ny Chakrya, senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, called for a full investigation to identify everyone involved in the case. He said it was strange that police had not at least questioned the deputy district military police commander and his brother.
“Our investigators in Kratie said the suspects handed themselves in to the commune police,” he said. “This is the only case I can recall where the killers freely give themselves up. Normally, they try to escape.”