Though nationwide figures remain elusive, the number of Cambodian loggers killed or injured by Thai soldiers along the border in Oddar Meanchey province in 2012 was up more than 110 per cent from 2011, provincial police officials said yesterday.
Sun Korng, director of the statistics office at the Oddar Meanchey provincial police, said 19 Cambodians were shot dead by Thai soldiers last year and 16 were injured after crossing the border illegally – up from only eight deaths and eight injuries in 2011 – and that the number incidents in which shots were fired had risen as well.
“In 2011, Thais shot at Cambodians 12 times, and [shot at them] 21 times in 2012,” he said.
Repatriations of Cambodians back to the province by Thai authorities, he added, rose 42 per cent to 376 from 265 in 2011.
According to provincial police deputy chief of staff Chhet Chhorn, Oddar Meanchey police and border police themselves arrested nearly 400 Cambodians last year before they managed to cross the border into Thailand to look for work, or illegally log.
“Most of them attempted to cross the border wherever they could, but our forces arrested and educated them before freeing them to go home,” he said.
Despite the arrests, Srey Naren, provincial co-ordinator for the rights group Adhoc, criticised police for what he characterised as weak measures in cracking down on the luxury timber trade.
“We noticed that the death toll is increasing, and it is a concern. The price of timber keeps going up, and traders need more workers to log illegally. Police arrested workers, but not brokers or traders,” said Naren, who maintained that police had undercounted shooting deaths in 2012.
“I visited and investigated all the families whose members were shot death by the Thais. There were more than 30 in 2012,” he added.
Oddar Meanchey provincial authorities declined to comment on the matter.
Pich Vanna, chief of the Cambodian-Thai Border Relations Office, said that while he did not have an official report yet, he was optimistic that the shootings and other incidents along the entire border would prove to have declined in 2012.
“Our Cambodians are not so aware of local work. We have jobs locally for them, but they prefer working in Thailand,” he said. “Our police are trying to stop them from doing so, and the cases are down now.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Phak Seangly at [email protected]