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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Blood on the border

Blood on the border

Blood on the border

Sixty-nine Cambodians were shot dead by Thai soldiers while crossing the border illegally last year, the Ministry of Interior (MoI) said on Tuesday at the launch of its annual report.

But that bombshell figure – more than double the ministry’s figure of 30 for 2012 – is being questioned by many, most pointedly by the government itself, other departments of which recorded significantly different figures.

“Cambodians were shot dead by Thai soldiers in 55 [incidents] last year … in which 69 people were killed and 165 workers were arrested and detained,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak told more than 500 senior officials during his presentation on Tuesday, which also listed the figures.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cambodia-Thai Border Relations Office dispute that figure, however, claiming that fewer than 20 people were killed on the border last year.

“There were 13 people shot dead; this is my official information, and I am not sure about the death toll reported by the Ministry of Interior,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Kuy Koung told the Post yesterday.

A logger is stopped by border police in Pursat province’s Veal Veng district after returning from Thailand in 2013
A logger is stopped by border police in Pursat province’s Veal Veng district after returning from Thailand in 2013. Photo Supplied

“The government has strongly paid attention [to this issue], and the ministry previously sent a diplomatic letter [to Thailand], calling on Thai soldiers to stop shooting [Cambodians]. But the Thai side explained that [the shootings occurred] due to confrontations [with Cambodians] and illegal border crossings.”

Pich Vanna, director of the Cambodia-Thai Border Relations Office, said yesterday that his office had recorded 17 people killed by Thai soldiers in 2013.

“I am not sure about the report of the ministry, but from my report, along the Cambodia-Thai border, about 17 people were shot dead [in 2013]. We have evidence such as photos of the actual dead bodies,” Vanna said.

“We always have meetings with our Thai counterparts at the border and share all information when there is a problem related to border affairs. We always ask Thais to [help us] by practising its laws instead of shooting.

“The two armed forces have good cooperation and unity to the benefit of a peaceful border.”

Sopheak could not be reached for comment yesterday, but Oddar Meanchey provincial police chief Men Ly said that the MoI statistics were “official” because police chiefs of border provinces had sent the recorded deaths directly to the National Police.

The border office, meanwhile, gets its data from border checkpoint officials, meaning that their figures often conflict with that of the ministry.

According to the ministry’s annual report for 2012, 30 Cambodians were killed, while the border office said that 45 were shot dead in that year, three times the 15 recorded in 2011.Only nine people were killed in 2010 and eight in 2009, according to border office figures.

Cambodians often illegally cross the Thai border, despite the risks of being shot at by soldiers, in order to log prized rosewood, or in search of better paid work in Thailand.

Srey Naren, Oddar Meanchey coordinator for human rights group Adhoc, said that through interviews with families and witnesses he had recorded 40 Cambodians who were killed on the border last year while illegally logging rosewood.

“The [actual] death toll is more than the figures we have, because these figures only come from Oddar Meanchey,” he said, adding that information from other provinces was scant, as those who had witnessed the killings often fled back to their home villages and could not be located.

“I agree with the death toll reported by the Ministry of Interior, and the real death toll could even be higher than 69,” he said.

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