Three men have been arrested in connection with the fatal shootings of two Ministry of Environment rangers in their sub-station at the entrance to the Aural Wildlife Sanctuary in Kompong Speu province last month, police said Tuesday.
The suspects—who include a police officer who allegedly provided the M-16 assault rifle with which the rangers were gunned down —were illegal loggers motivated by revenge, said Pek Chheng, Kompong Speu provincial penal police chief.
Authorities said alleged ringleader Prak Mean, 33, was arrested on Sunday along with local Aural district policeman Bun Sorn, 42. Prak Mean’s younger brother, Prak Moeun, 31, was arrested on Monday.
Prak Mean had been procuring illegal timber to supply his furniture-making business, police said.
“They were angry with the rangers in the Aural Wildlife Sanctuary because they seized their saws,” Pek Chheng said, adding that investigators are seeking two other suspects.
Pek Chheng said police seized four weapons—one M-16 and three AK-47s—during Prak Moeun’s arrest, which was conducted with the cooperation of the military police. Authorities are investigating whether the AK-47s have the same registration numbers as those looted from the rangers’ sub-station after the shootings.
Nup Oeun, Kompong Speu provincial police chief, alleged Monday that Prak Mean was the hitman in the close-range shooting, which killed Ministry of Environment rangers Kim Poch, 39, and Nuon Chorn, 27.
Mike Appleton, project manager for the Cardamom Mountains Wildlife Sanctuary Project for Fauna & Flora International, an NGO that worked closely with the slain rangers, said: “We’re very encouraged by the investigation that’s gone on so far and that suspects have been arrested.”
Just three weeks before the Aural Wildlife Sanctuary shooting, a ranger with a wildlife NGO was killed by gunmen—two of whom police said were decommissioned soldiers—in a mountain camp in Koh Kong province.