Nongovernmental organisations on Thursday called on the government to increase employment opportunities for poor villagers in Oddar Meanchey province to discourage them from crossing the border into Thailand on illegal logging excursions, one day after Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong said recent attacks on Cambodian loggers, allegedly by Thai soldiers, constituted major human rights violations.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, said the government should not bother sending notes to Thailand after each reported attack and should instead try to provide villagers with more appealing income-generation opportunities.
“The government should implement its strategy of eliminating poverty by establishing as many workplaces as possible in local areas,” he said, adding that he believes Cambodians would not seek out work in other countries – legally or illegally – if there were sufficient job opportunities at home.
Srey Naren, the Oddar Meanchey coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said this week that nine villagers were killed in 2009 and three in the early days of 2010 after they entered Thailand illegally to log in Sisaket province.
Chan Soveth, a researcher for Adhoc, said Thursday that the government should offer vacant land to impoverished villagers so they have something to farm.
Officials have recently taken steps to crack down on illegal logging in Thailand. In December, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a note to the Interior Ministry instructing it to urge villagers not to risk crossing into Thailand illegally. Last week, soldiers in the Oddar Meanchey province ramped up their presence along the Thai border to prevent Cambodians from crossing over.
On Thursday, senior Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the government had ordered officials in Oddar Meanchey, Banteay Meanchey, Koh Kong, Pailin and Preah Vihear to “strongly educate” people not to cross the border illegally. He also said the government was looking into establishing microfinance handicraft projects in all five localities.
But opposition Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann accused the government of failing to provide for villagers in border provinces.
“They have no jobs, and it is the government’s fault because they are responsible for job creation,” he said.