Soldier Suspected of Smuggling Wood Escapes in Hail of Bullets

Authorities in Kompong Thom province are searching for a soldier suspected of smuggling rosewood who shot at police while making his getaway through a maze of narrow streets on Saturday morning.

Provincial police chief Chou Sam An said his officers received a call from a deputy provincial prosecutor at 7 a.m. to stop a Honda CR-V bearing Royal Cambodian Armed Forces license plates and driving down National Road 6 with about 200 kg of illegally logged rosewood.

Mr. Sam An said police found the car and ordered it to stop. But the driver kept going, he said, leading police on a 5-km chase before the driver stopped at his home in Stung Sen City and exited the vehicle.

“When we tried to arrest the suspect, he ran away from his vehicle and shot at the authorities seven times with his gun while the authorities shot back at him two times,” says Mr. Sam An’s report to the National Police.

“The suspect ran into a villager’s house and took his shirt off and ran to another house,” the report continues. “He escaped because the space was narrow.”

Mr. Sam An said the man had left his military uniform in the car.

Provincial military police commander Hang Thol said the officers who took part in the operation all survived unscathed.

“Our forces were not injured,” he said. “It was hard to arrest the suspect because he had a gun and there were many houses and small streets.”

Mr. Thol said police spoke with the suspect’s wife, who confirmed that her husband was a soldier and said he was posted near the Thai border in Preah Vihear province. Mr. Thol claimed to not know the suspect’s name or military unit, however.

“We got a tip from the wife, so we hope to arrest him soon,” he said.

A statement on the National Police website identifies the man only as Pon, 35, and also as a soldier stationed in Preah Vihear. It says 26 pieces of rosewood were found in his car and were being held by the Stong Forestry Administration division.

The incident was the second in which police have fired on suspected illegal loggers in less than a week.

On Wednesday, a national police officer stationed in Mondolkiri province shot at a car suspected of ferrying illegally logged wood after it failed to heed a command to stop. The gunfire killed one man and injured the stepson of a deputy provincial military police commander. No wood was found in the car.

dara@cambodiadaily.com

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