Soldier Accused of Threatening Travelers at Checkpoint Bridge

A military officer in Kompong Speu province was arrested on Monday for shooting into the air and threatening people who would not pay to cross a wooden bridge that another military officer had built across a stream, local police said.

The soldier, Hok Sophat, 36, a captain at the Defense Ministry, had set up a checkpoint to collect 5,000 riel (about $1.25) from every vehicle that wanted to cross the bridge in Oral district’s Trapaing Chor commune, according to deputy district police chief Eam Chantha.

The bridge was built across a local stream in August by Meas Dara, a lieutenant colonel at the Defense Ministry, who had sent Mr. Sophat to man the checkpoint and demand a fee from those who wished to cross.

However, the captain habitually became angry when travelers refused to pay the toll and would shoot into the air with his AK-47 assault rifle to scare them, Mr. Chantha said.

“We arrested Mr. Sophat after people filed a complaint against him for opening fire to threaten and extort money from people when they would not agree to pay to cross the bridge,” he said.

Mr. Chantha explained that although the checkpoint was not illegal, the soldier’s violent behavior was.

“We didn’t arrest him because of collecting the money, but we accused him of using a gun illegally and shooting to threaten people,” he said.

Mr. Sophat was questioned by provincial police at their headquarters Tuesday, according to the provincial police chief, Keo Pisey, who declined to discuss the case.

Mr. Dara, the lieutenant colonel who built the bridge, said he had spent a total of $11,600 to build it, and that local authorities had given him permission to charge travelers to cross.

He said he had only begun collection in December, after the end of the rainy season, and had netted about $250 that month.

“I assigned Mr. Sophat to stand there to collect money from passengers for crossing the bridge,” he said, emphasizing that the checkpoint was not illegal.

“I have not yet received a telephone call from provincial authorities to ask me for an explanation of posting my guy at the checkpoint, but I will request the release of my guy because he did nothing wrong, as he just accidentally shot,” Mr. Dara added.

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