Nearly 30 Cambodians have been shot dead while illegally crossing the Thai border since 2008, with many headed there for the purpose of illegal logging. Yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said they have only themselves to blame.
Speaking at the opening of national road 62 in Preah Vihear province yesterday, Hun Sen called those crossing the border to illegally log “provokers” and said it was difficult to blame the soldiers who shot them. He also warned armed forces commanders and civilians involved in illegal logging, both in Cambodia and across the border, that the Anti-Corruption Unit would investigate them if they didn’t cease their activities.
“They have not only cut Khmer timber, [they] have also entered to cut Thai timber until [Thai soldiers] have shot and killed them. We must dare to admit that our Khmer entered to cut Thai timber,” Hun Sen said.
“Sometimes they are provokers, and when [Thai soldiers] shoot, it is difficult to blame them, because [the victims] have gone to provoke".
Hun Sen said the loggers, especially the armed force commanders involved, had advanced skills when it came to felling trees and operating the heavy trucks required to move timber.
He said some loggers had even used Red Cross, RCAF and petroleum vehicles to transport luxury timber.
In a bid to crack down on Cambodian commanders involved in illegal logging, Hun Sen called on soldiers to give him the name of any commanders they knew to be logging, adding they could do so under the guaranteed safety of anonymity.
“Regarding these officials, the Anti-Corruption Unit must investigate, or they can request that I investigate,” he said.
Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said those who resort to crossing into Thailand to log are often unemployed and living in poverty, and it was the responsibility of Cambodia’s leaders to find justice for the victims.
“[A logger] goes to log because he is poor. He is poor because the leader makes him poor. The leader does not have the possibility to find a job for him, nor can he provide him with the farmland he needs to live,” Yim Sovann said.
“Just because they are guilty of illegal logging, it doesn’t mean they deserve to be shot. But the [Thai] soldiers have done this because they look down on Khmer and Khmer leaders.”
Chan Saveth, chief investigator at human rights group Adhoc, said the government had a duty to create more jobs for Cambodians to prevent them from risking their lives to log.