A land mine and a B40 rocket were rigged as booby traps in two separate locations inside the popular Kirirom National Park last month to keep law enforcement officers away from illegal animal traps, according police and witness reports.
Eleven reports from the last three months by witnesses and police implicate several soldiers in illegal logging and hunting. The reports also link the men to several beatings intended to intimidate locals into not reporting the men’s illegal activities inside the tourist destination.
Locals picking wildflowers near Kirirom Pagoda on Oct 26 found a land mine rigged with a
50-meter trip wire near a road to guard hundreds of illegal wildlife traps, said a Kompong Speu province tourism police report obtained Tuesday.
“According to assurances of our forces based there, the land mine was placed by a soldier named Nhong…. He deployed the land mine for fear that people or park rangers would take away his snares while on patrol,” the report said.
The suspects also planted a B40 rocket rigged to a tree stump. The rocket was discovered Oct 23 by a villager on Phnom Phdach Chivith mountain, according to a thumbprinted witness report submitted to police.
Kompong Speu province officials said Wednesday they were investigating the reports of illegal logging and poaching inside the park, but most denied knowledge of the deadly booby traps.
Chea Vuth, Kompong Speu deputy police chief, said officers were investigating complaints against three alleged poachers and were also looking into the report of the land mine planted near animal snares. Chea Vuth said he had not received a report of the rigged rocket.
Soeung Bunthoeurn, director of Kompong Speu provincial Environment Department, said his office was investigating two poachers who were former soldiers, but he denied knowledge of the explosive booby traps.
Keo Samuon, commander of RCAF’s military region 3, which includes Kompong Speu province, also said he had received no reports of military involvement in illegal poaching and logging.
While the use of land mines to deter law enforcement officers from cracking down on illegal hunting are a first for Kirirom, the use of mines to hunt large mammals is not uncommon elsewhere in Cambodia, environmentalists said Wednesday.
Delphine Van Roe, deputy country director of the NGO WildAid, said mines have been used to hunt large animals in Kampot province’s Bokor Mountain National Park.
Illegal logging and hunting in Kirirom have also been linked to RCAF soldiers and officers in military Region 3, Van Roe said.
“We have definite evidence that the military is poaching there,” Van Roe said.
Mike Davis of forestry NGO Global Witness, which has investigated illegal activities in the Kirirom protected area, said that military-orchestrated logging and hunting “is quite well established.”
Illegal logging and hunting by armed soldiers deters tourism in many of Cambodia’s protected areas, said Davis. The latest reports from Kirirom, the most visited park in Cambodia, do not bode well for the other areas, he added.
“If [the government] can’t protect Kirirom, what hope is there for anywhere else?” he asked.