Cambodian police detained 19 illegal loggers along the Thai border over the weekend, but chose to make the loggers “promise” to desist, instead of taking legal action against them.
In Pursat province’s Veal Veng district, five villagers aged between 19 and 25 years old were arrested by police on Friday while on their way to log in Thmorda commune, which shoulders the Thai border.
Pich Sophorn, Thmorda police chief, said the villagers were educated on the risks of illegal logging and then made to sign a contract in which they “promised not to attempt to log again”. The villagers were subsequently released with no criminal charges the next day.
The police chief defended this seemingly unorthodox approach to lawbreakers. “In my area, no logger has been shot dead by Thai soldiers,” he claimed.
Three people from the same Pursat province commune were arrested by Thai soldiers the same day, after having already strayed over the vaguely indicated jungle border between the two countries.
Kuy Saroeun, border commander at area 825 in Veal Veng district, said that Thai solders detained the Cambodia villagers for one night, but Thai soldiers did not badger them because he intervened before the Cambodians were sent to Thai district police and imprisoned.
“We have good relations with each other, so Thai soldiers agreed to release them on Saturday,” he said, adding that it was easy to roam into Thai territory and border police from the two countries in that area were working to improve the delineation markings in the thick jungle.
In Oddar Meanchey’s Trapaing Prasat district, police on Friday arrested and educated a further 14 villagers between 18 and 50 years old, including one female, for attempting to log at a border site there.
Lam Poly, chief of the anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection office, said on Sunday that he educated each of the villagers in one-on-one meetings and made them sign a contract promising not to log again.
“Poverty causes them to take risks to log. Sometimes, they are shot dead or injured. We need to strictly educate them, and we will send them to court if they do not follow their contract,” he said, adding that he planned to release them today.