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Keo Sopheak, a senior environmental official in Mondulkiri province, said the three-person team was attacked late Tuesday afternoon after patrolling in the Keo Seima wildlife conservation sanctuary. He said the dead civilian was a Cambodian employee of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.
The three are the latest victims of an alarming trend in recent years, the murder of environmental defenders by parties seeking the financial exploitation of natural resources. Roughly 200 activists have been killed worldwide in each of the past two years, according to the U.K.-based watchdog group Global Witness.
“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,” Sopheak said. The conservation team had earlier confiscated chainsaws and motorcycles from some Vietnamese logging illegally, he said.
A copy of a report sent by Mondulkiri police chief Ouk Samnang to national police chief, Neth Savouen, identified three border security officials whom it said had shot and killed the conservation team. Cambodian security forces are known to collaborate with illegal loggers who smuggle the wood to neighbouring Vietnam.
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