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Army aided loggers: US cable

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Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldiers patrol in Oddar Meanchey province earlier this year.

An American diplomatic cable from the United States embassy in Bangkok claims that armed Cambodian soldiers have been used to protect loggers working illegally in Thai territory.

The cable, made public this month and originally obtained by the anti-secrecy organisation WikiLeaks, dates from December of 2009 and recounts an incident near the border from that month during which one Cambodian logger was killed by Thai troops.

Then-US Ambassador to Thailand Eric John wrote in the cable that a source had told the embassy “that Cambodian soldiers were protecting the loggers when shots were exchanged between the two sides, resulting in the death of one of the loggers, who suffered from shotgun and grenade wounds”.

“Patches confiscated from the Cambodians involved suggested involvement by security personnel, who were presumably moonlighting in this other role,” John wrote.

Dy Phen, director of the Cambodian-Thai border relations office in Banteay Meanchey province, yesterday denied allegations of military involvement in illegal logging across the border.

“As a soldier at the border, I can assure you that individual soldiers would not dare to cross the border illegally to protect loggers because that is a violation of the sovereignty of Thailand,” he said.

“I think those allegations are just to defend Thai soldiers who performed their duties wrongly and shot unarmed Cambodian civilians.”

The shootings of Cambodian loggers near the Thai border have been a persistent problem in recent years.

Chan Soveth, a senior investigator with the local rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that his group had confirmed the deaths of 22 Cambodian loggers shot by Thai forces in 2010, and is investigating roughly a dozen cases from this year.

In January of 2010, just over a month after the shooting described in the US cable, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong accused Thai forces who fire on Cambodian loggers of breaching international law.

“If Cambodian people do something wrong, [Thai authorities] can punish them by using international law and the principle of human rights,” he said, adding that Cambodia had sent Thailand “many diplomatic notes” on the issue.

Last week, WikiLeaks released all 777 diplomatic cables from the American embassy in Phnom Penh that the group has in its cache of over 250,000 leaked US State Department documents.

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