Three Cambodians were shot and killed early on Saturday morning after engaging in a firefight while illegally logging along the Thai border, officials said yesterday.
The three are believed to have been shot after crossing from Battambang’s Samlot district into Thai territory while logging luxury rosewood.
Ti Sokha, chief of Cambodia-Thailand border relations in neighbouring Pailin, said the loggers were likely to blame.
“The loggers were encountered by Thai patrollers while cutting timber in Thailand, and they opened fire at the Thai side first after being asked to stop cutting. However, Thai patrollers fired back and killed them, and one Thai patroller was injured too,” Sokha said.
The men were armed with semi-automatic rifles, deputy provincial police commander Em Dara said. He gave a slightly differing account, saying the Thai soldiers shot in the air “to threaten the Cambodians”, at which point the loggers opened fire.
They were accompanied by three other men, one of them a soldier, who have since been allowed to return home.
Although official numbers have not been updated, dozens of Cambodians have been shot on the border this year.
As of July, government statistics put the figure at 38 – far eclipsing the 15 who were shot dead in 2011, a record number at the time.
Exacerbated by rising prices and a growing scarcity of timber within Cambodia’s borders, the bloody logging situation shows little signs of abating despite heightened attempts by officials to warn people away from the border.
There have been scores of illegal logging deaths at the borders of Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihear provinces in recent years, but few, if any, recorded in Battambang.
The prevalence of illegal crossings to cut timber had spread to Stung Treng in spite of active intervention by police, officials said yesterday.
Va Sophan, the police chief of Seam Pang district, said that in the past week alone, 16 people had been arrested on the Lao side, 11 of whom had been released so far.
Rights workers have pointed out repeatedly that insufficient opportunities within Cambodia lead workers to take desperate risks.
To contact the reporter on this story: Phak Seangly at [email protected]