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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thai border guards set 'mine trap'for Cambodians

Thai border guards set 'mine trap'for Cambodians

Human rights NGO Licadho has reported that Thai border guards set a 'landmine

trap' which killed five Cambodians and wounded six others on October

2.

"We will check with the victims and, if they agree, take this

further," said Licadho director Naly Pilorge. "This is a very serious abuse, and

we are considering action in both the Thai and Cambodian courts."

Five

Cambodians died from gunshot and landmine wounds and six others were seriously

injured in the incident on the Thai side of the border near Banteay Meanchey

province.

Border police alerted the media in Bangkok about the killings,

which were reported as an 'exchange of fire' between the soldiers and a group of

30 Cambodian smugglers. But when the survivors returned to Cambodia they told

police and human rights workers a different story.

Twenty Cambodians had

crossed the border late on October 1 at O'Bai Chhorn commune in Banteay

Meanchey. They were promised 500 baht ($11) to push a stolen pick-up across the

border under the cover of night.

At 3:30 the following morning the group

arrived at a Thai road regularly used by Cambodians as an illicit border

crossing, and started pushing the car toward Cambodian territory. What they

didn't know was that the road had become a minefield.

Licadho's

investigators said the men then accidentally set off the mines. Twenty minutes

later a detachment of the Thai military's border defense unit arrived with two

vehicles and a tank and opened fire on the men. Banteay Meanchey Governor Thach

Kharn, agreed with that assessment.

Licadho's report stated that the Thai

soldiers then dragged the bodies to the vehicle, placed a rifle and a grenade on

the corpses and photographed the bodies. The dead and injured were returned

through the Poipet border crossing the following day.

Var Kim Hong, the

chairman of the Council of Ministers' border committee, said his team was aware

of the case but had not yet received a detailed report.

"[Minister for

the Council of Ministers] Sok An will raise this issue with the Thai government

during our bilateral meeting on border issues scheduled for next week," he said.

"This is a humanitarian issue - they entered illegally, but they should not be

shot. They should only be arrested."

Hong said that if it proved true the

Thai forces had laid the mines, that would be a breach of its international

treaty obligations. Thailand is a signatory to the 1997 treaty banning

landmines.

The latest incident is perhaps the worst of a number of recent

violent attacks by Thai border guards against Cambodians looking to make the

illegal crossing. Pilorge said it was "very reflective" of the kinds of abuses

visited on Cambodians in the border area.

Every year thousands of

impoverished Cambodians cross the border into Thailand in search of work. While

some can earn up to 40 times what they make in Cambodia, others walk straight

into a horror story.

A working paper on labor migration written three

years ago by the Cambodian Development Resource Institute estimated that as many

as 82,000 Cambodians live and work illegally in Thailand at any one

time.

Many spend a good deal of time dodging the Thai authorities. Those

who are caught are normally shipped back across the border. Poipet police

estimate that some 10,000 were arrested and repatriated in 2000.

Earlier

this year the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center reported that the number of

Cambodians crossing to work in Thailand had risen dramatically. Nearly 14,000

people were caught entering Thailand via the Poipet border crossing between May

and October 2001, almost three times as much as the 1999 period.

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