Authorities in Preah Vihear province on Tuesday arrested a local soldier on suspicion of being involved in the fatal shooting of a police officer and a Forestry Administration ranger on an overnight patrol for illegal loggers early Saturday morning.
Sap Yous, a police officer in Chheb district, and Seang Narong, a Chheb division Forestry Administration ranger, were shot in their sleep at about 1:30 a.m. inside the Preah Roka forest by a group of assailants who escaped into the brush, according to another officer on the same patrol who escaped.
Six men allegedly caught logging illegally in the same area on a prior occasion were arrested Monday as suspects in the double murder and remain in custody.
Tuesday, deputy provincial police chief Khat Hun said a seventh suspect, Chan Soeung, 53, a soldier with Brigade 9 of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ 3rd Division, was also taken into custody.
“We arrested this soldier because this person had often telephoned our police officers and threatened to shoot them dead after the officers confiscated chainsaws from some loggers,” Mr. Hun said. “We asked the commander of Brigade 9 to bring the suspect to us for questioning, and the deputy commander arrested the suspect and handed him to us this morning.”
Mr. Hun said he did not know about the threatening calls from the soldier until now because the police officer injured in the weekend patrol, who claimed to have received some of those calls, had not previously passed along the information.
The same officer, Phet Sophoan, told a reporter on Sunday that he suspected military involvement in the attack because a group of soldiers had been arrested for logging in the area a few months ago.
The soldier, Mr. Hun said, was being questioned at provincial police headquarters by officers from the National Police’s central judicial department.
The department’s commander, In Bora, confirmed the questioning of a Brigade 9 soldier in connection with the murders.
“My police officers are questioning the soldier and the loggers, but they have not yet reported back to me,” he said, declining to comment further.
Brigade 9 commander Duong Chan could not be reached. But Division 3 commander Srey Doek denied that any of his soldiers had been taken into custody.
“There has been no arrest of my soldiers; this information is not true,” he said.
The military’s involvement in Cambodia’s widespread illegal logging trade is well documented.
Soldiers are often caught smuggling wood across the country, and they frequently end up in police reports coming to the rescue of illegal loggers.
Though threats against police and rangers working to root out the trade are common, fatal shootings are very rare. According to the Forestry Administration, a ranger was last shot dead by illegal loggers about 20 years ago.