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Cambodian Illegal Fishing Crackdown with Vietnamese Leads to Swordfight to the Death

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- At least three Vietnamese fishermen have been killed in a clash with Cambodian authorities during a crackdown on illegal fishing on a lake in the country's northwest, a senior fishery official said Tuesday.

The clash happened Monday when Cambodian authorities tried to stop people from fishing illegally in protected parts of Tonle Sap lake, said Nao Thourk, head of the agriculture ministry's fisheries department.

But a group of Vietnamese fishermen, reportedly armed with swords, began fighting back. Three Vietnamese, including one woman, were killed in the clash, Nao Thourk said.

After the incident, the Vietnamese fishermen burned down one of the department's nearby offices, Nao Thourk added. One Vietnamese has been arrested over the arson.

Local fisheries officials have denied killing the Vietnamese, but the incident was still under investigation, he said.

A local Khmer-language newspaper, Rasmei Kampuchea, reported that fishery authorities opened fire to protect themselves when the Vietnamese fishermen attacked them.

The Tonle Sap, or "Great Lake," is famed for dramatically increasing its size by around four to five times during the rainy season, with many Cambodians also reliant on its fragile ecosystem to earn their living.

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