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Thais free seven loggers after two years in prison

SEVEN Cambodian villagers from Oddar Meanchey province were released from prison in Thailand on Saturday after being held in detention for nearly two years without trial, a provincial official said Monday.

Touch Ra, chief of the Cambodia-Thailand relations office at the Chom International Border Gate in Oddar Meanchey, said the seven men were among a group of 20 who were captured by Thai soldiers in May 2008 while logging illegally in the Dangrek Mountains in Thailand’s Sisaket province.

“They have been detained in prison without any trial for two years,” Touch Ra said. “They had been jailed since they were arrested, and after they were dropped off by Thai authorities, we allowed them to go back home.”

Touch Ra added that the men, aged between 21 and 36 years, hailed from Oddar Meanchey’s Trapaing Prasat district, and had not revealed whether they entered Thailand independently or at the behest of a timber dealer. Government officials say they have staged a crackdown on the illegal-logging business in recent months in response to an order from Prime Minister Hun Sen, who sacked Forestry Administration director Ty Sokun earlier this month for failing to effectively deal with the problem.Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong could not be reached for comment. Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy spokesman Thani Thongphakdi declined to comment, saying he had not received information about the case.

Loggers entering Thailand from border towns in Oddar Meanchey are frequently involved in confrontations with the Thai military. According to a report released in February by the local rights group Adhoc, at least 20 Cambodian civilians have been shot and killed by Thai soldiers near the border since the beginning of 2008. Thai officials have disputed the report’s findings.

Among the Cambodian loggers who have been arrested in Thai territory, 16 who were apprehended together last year received prison sentences of between six and nine years in Thailand’s Ubon Ratchathani Provincial Court in September.

In February, Thailand’s Surin Provincial Court sentenced six Cambodians to 27-month terms in a case in which Cambodian officials said they had been prevented from providing lawyers to defend the loggers by a last-minute change of schedule.

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