LOGGERS from Oddar Meanchey’s O’Smach commune arrested for crossing the border have been charged in a Thai court and are awaiting trial, officials said Monday, one day after a funeral was held for a member of their party who is missing and presumed dead.
Chhoeun Roun, 21, of O’Smach, did not return from a January 24 logging expedition during which he and five other men were allegedly fired upon by Thai troops. The rest of the party were detained and have been charged with illegal border-crossing, invading forest land and environmental damage, villagers and officials said.
Authorities have warned them about the prohibited areas, but they don't listen."
Srey Naren, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said that after checking prisons and hospitals near the border in Thailand’s Surin province, villagers concluded that Chhoeun Roun had died. A search of the site where Thai soldiers allegedly fired on Chhoeun Roun’s party uncovered a pool of blood, which Srey Naren said was further evidence that Chhoeun Roun had been killed.
Chan Tha, who hails from the same village as the loggers, said residents there were afraid that the group had already been found guilty of the charges against them.
But Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said that the loggers were still in pretrial detention and had not appeared in court yet.
“The Thai court did not open the trial yet, they just detained them as they are awaiting trial,” he said. “Cambodian consular officials are on their way to help them, following legal procedures.”
Koy Kuong went on to say that the Thai authorities did not have enough proof to convict the villagers of causing environmental damage, adding that their trial is likely to begin within the next 40 days.
O’Smach commune chief Phem Sam Ath said many residents in the area are migrant workers, and that logging is the only work available to them.
“Authorities have warned them about the prohibited areas, but they don’t listen,” he said.
In September, a Thai court sentenced 16 villagers to prison with terms ranging from six to nine years on charges of illegally entering the country and destroying forests. Cambodian officials launched an appeal on behalf of those villagers in October.