FOLLOWING a series of cross-border incidents in which Thai soldiers allegedly shot and killed Cambodian illegal loggers, authorities in Oddar Meanchey province’s Trapaing Prasat district have coupled tougher policing with a cash-crop programme in an attempt to stanch the flow of migrants over the border, the Trapaing Prasat district governor said on Monday.
The scale of the logging and the persistence of Trapaing Prasat’s loggers, however, was underscored by a crackdown last Thursday in the district’s Osvay commune, in which 200 would-be loggers were arrested before they could cross into Thailand.
Vann Kosal, Trapaing Prasat district governor, said the success of the cash-crop initiative, which encourages villagers to grow corn, cassava, soybeans and bananas as alternative sources of income, was due in part to stricter policing on the border and the deterrent effect of the recent shootings.
“The people here have begun taking into account the serious risks of illegal logging,” he said.
In recent months, Thai border troops have been accused of fatally shooting at least seven loggers crossing the border in Trapaing Prasat district, prompting a January crackdown order from the Ministry of Interior.
Pich Sokhin, governor of Oddar Meanchey province, said that the new measures were less effective at stopping lawbreakers from other provinces, citing the recent mass arrest in Osvay.
“None of them were from my province,” Pich Sokin said.
Men Morn, deputy chief of Bak Anloung commune, said that commune residents have responded enthusiastically to the cash-crop programme.
“The villagers are farming again. Now they’re busy harvesting soybeans and sesame,” he said.
Phal Sokhorn, a resident of Bak Anloung commune’s Sre La-o village, said that any inclination he may have had to cross the border illegally was dispelled last month when his father-in-law was killed and his younger brother seriously injured by Thai soldiers.
“Whether we end up rich or poor, we will struggle to cultivate rice fields and plant cash crops on our farmland rather than logging across the border,” he said.
“But it would help if the government could develop a market for our produce.”