Government forces reportedly attacked a forest protection ranger, conservation worker, and military police officer in a part of northeastern Cambodia that grapples with illegal logging, the Associated Press reported. The soldiers killed the forest defenders in what seemed to be retaliation after the three-person team seized equipment from illegal loggers, according to officials. Senior environmental official Keo Sopheak said, “The three were killed not by robbers or a guerrilla group but they were shot by government armed forces who backed the illegal timber cutting.”
The three-person team had been patrolling the Keo Seima wildlife sanctuary, according to the Associated Press, which described them as the latest victims in a trend of environmental defenders murdered by people seeking to exploit natural resources for financial gain. They’d confiscated motorcycles and chainsaws from Vietnamese people illegally logging, Sopheak said. Per the Associated Press, security forces in Cambodia sometimes work with illegal loggers who then smuggle the timber into Vietnam nearby.
On their page about the Keo Seima wildlife sanctuary, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Cambodia said the Seima Protection Forest (SPF) “boasts more than 60 species that are Globally Threatened, Near-threatened, or Data Deficient by IUCN criteria. The area is home to 25 different species of carnivore, including Tiger and seven other species of wild cat. The SPF is of international importance for the conservation of primates, Asian elephants, wild cattle, and several species of birds.” Sopheak said the civilian killed was a WCS Cambodian employee.
Illicit wood trade is a multimillion dollar affair across southeast Asia, per the Associated Press, with China as a major market. The Keo Seima sanctuary reportedly contains valuable timber alongside threatened wildlife species.