A Cambodian soldier has turned himself into authorities over the fatal shooting of three people patrolling a protected forest, an official said Thursday, in a case that has cast light on the country’s illegal timber trade. A military officer, park ranger and employee of the prominent NGO Wildlife Conservation Society were gunned down Tuesday after seizing a chainsaw from illegal loggers in Mondulkiri province’s Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary near the border with Vietnam.
Cambodian officials believe security forces may have been involved in the confrontation, illustrating the dark web surrounding the trade in logs, which thrives off a mix of illegality and corruption. Ouk Samnang, Mondulkiri provincial police chief, told reporters that a soldier named Kert Veha turned himself into police last night in connection with the case.
“We have detained a soldier,” he said, adding he is being questioned while police “hunt for” two other suspects still at large. Cambodia’s forests have been decimated by both illegal logging and government-backed land concessions that sometimes provide cover for the trade.
The United Nations says that forest cover in Cambodia has fallen from 73 percent in 1990 to 46 percent in 2013, as demand for rare wood from China and Vietnam contributes to the decline. Environmental activism is perilous work in Cambodia and several high-profile campaigners have been killed, with some cases involving security forces as suspects.
In 2015 a forest ranger and a policeman who were investigating illegal logging in Cambodia were killed and at least 10 people, including a soldier, were arrested. The Wildlife Conservation Society has not replied to a request for comment.