Police Refuse to Hunt Fugitive Ex-Official Without More Money

Police in Mondolkiri province are refusing to search for a fugitive form­er military police officer—want­ed for shooting at au­thorities who came to inspect a suspicious haul of luxury wood in his car—because they do not have enough mo­ney to conduct a thorough manhunt, an official said on Wednesday.

Sou Marith, 37, who made headlines in 2014 when he put a gun to the head of a district governor, fled his house after the shooting on Wednesday and was charged in ab­sentia with using an il­­legal weapon by the Mondolkiri Provincial Court on Friday, ac­cording to deputy prosecutor Chea Sovantheth.

Sak Sarun, commander of the military police in Keo Seima district, a hotbed of illegal logging, said a team of Forestry Ad­ministration and military police of­ficers who were fired on when they attempted to in­spect two pieces of what ap­peared to be illegally logged Thnong wood inside a Toy­ota SUV parked outside the disgraced ex-official’s house.

“Our authorities followed his Land Cruiser—which was transporting wood and driven by his accomplice—to the gate of his house,” Mr. Sarun said, adding that when his men attempted to ap­proach the vehicle, Mr. Marith opened fire.

“Sou Marith shot twice from the [second] floor of his house at our mil­itary police while they were trying to walk inside his gate to in­spect the car,” he said.

“We withdrew, then we sent a force to surround his house, but he had escaped.”

While the Mondolkiri court has is­sued another warrant for his arrest—a warrant for the 2014 incident was apparently ig­nored by authorities—district po­lice chief Sun Bunthoeun, who has been tasked with finding Mr. Marith, said he does not have the necessary funds to initiate a manhunt.

“We need money,” he said, ex­plaining that a thorough search for Mr. Marith would require funds for tra­vel, food and accommodation that his officers do not currently have access to.

Mr. Bunthoeun refused to say how much money was needed but said he had requested the necessary amount from his pro­vincial po­lice superiors.

Mondolkiri provincial police chief Toch Yon said he would not be providing additional funds to the Keo Seima force.

“We will not offer any money be­cause it is the duty and the job of the district police to find the offender,” he said.

The shooting on Wednesday was the second time Mr. Marith has demonstrated a cavalier disregard for authority and fondness for firearms.

In May 2014, when Mr. Marith was employed as a local military po­lice officer, he put a pistol to the head of district governor Sin Van­vuth in an attempt to free the driv­ers of a Lexus SUV that the governor and other officials had pulled over for transporting 16 pieces of il­legally logged Neang Nuon wood. “It was a serious threat,” Mr. Van­vuth said at the time.

Mr. Marith eventually stood down and fled the scene. He was stripped of his position but never arrested.

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Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Sak Sarun was part of the team of officers that was shot at by fugitive former military police official Sou Marith. He was not present at the time.

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