A 40-year-old member of Kreung ethnic minority lodged a complaint with Ratanakkiri Provincial Court on Monday alleging that three police officers had beaten him for suspected wild animal smuggling, a court official said yesterday.
That Khmeng said by telephone yesterday that three police officers from the O’cheng checkpoint in Kon Mom district’s Ta Ong commune caught him with two pangolins on Thursday and then allegedly assaulted him. That Khmeng said he planned to sell the live beasts, which he said he stumbled on while collecting rubber in the jungle.
“I am not a wild animal smuggler. I accidentally caught two pangolins in the forest,” he said. “I should not have been tortured.”
That Khmeng and his 10-year-old son encountered the officers on their way to Banlung City from their village a few days after catching the animals, he said.
That Khmeng alleged that the officers used their car to block the road and eventually caught him, beat and kicked him, then brought him to the police station and beat him again although his son was not harmed. He said was released from the hospital yesterday after a few days of care for serious injuries.
District police chief Ream Odom dismissed That Khmeng’s accusations, saying the 40-year-old had actually caused his own injuries by running headlong into a tree.
“The accuser was smuggling wild animals and he ran into the tree and hit himself,” he said. “My cops were on duty to crack down on wild-animal smuggling.”
Mr Odom declined to say whether That Khmeng faced any charges. Both he and That Khmeng said they did not know the whereabouts of the pangolins.
Provincial court clerk Prak Soeurn confirmed that That Khmeng’s complaint had been lodged on Monday.
“We don’t know which party is right, which is why we need time for investigation,” Mr Soeurn said.
Chhay Thy, a provincial investigator for the human rights group Adhoc, said That Khmeng’s complaint was not the first filed against police officers at O’cheng checkpoint.
“We have received a number of complaints from local minority villagers over the violence used by these police against villagers, although local minority people are not wild animal smugglers,” he said.