Forty-five Cambodians were shot dead after crossing into Thai territory last year to illegally log rosewood, a threefold increase from 2011.
The figure, obtained yesterday from the Cambodian-Thai Border Relations Office, shows an explosive increase in logging deaths in recent years.
Fifteen people were killed in 2011, nine in 2010, and eight in 2009.
Pich Vanna, deputy chief of the Cambodian-Thai Border Relations Office, told the Post that senior military officials met yesterday to discuss the situation.
“We have insisted that our Thai counterparts make the effort to not shoot at our people and instead take legal action, but they continue to shoot again and again. Therefore, we have to make the effort ourselves to restrict people not to illegally cross the border for illegal rosewood logging,” said Vanna.
“In 2013, we have ordered all armed forces along the border with Thailand to increase restriction for monitoring our people.”
In addition to the deaths, 264 Cambodians were arrested last year by Thai authorities in conjunction with alleged illegal logging.
Government officials have insisted they are taking pains to staunch the tide, but rights workers said the data paint a different story.
“Regarding the increase, I think it’s very likely that people in the border provinces have access to fewer and fewer resources. Their livelihoods are threatened... Poverty is really the driving force,” said Nicolas Agostini, a technical adviser who focuses on land issues at Adhoc.
“Yes, [the government] is educating people, for sure, but they have to have access to a livelihood and a means to making a living in Cambodia. That’s less and less possible at the moment.”
While Thai authorities say after each shooting that their soldiers were acting in self-defence, Agostini pointed out that officials have rarely – if ever – presented evidence of such a claim.
“The key point is to launch meaningful investigations into each case of violence related to logging and each case of suspected illegal logging [whomever the suspects are]. This applies to Cambodian as well as Thai authorities.”
Requests for comment to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs went unanswered, while the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry said they could not comment as it was a holiday.
In the past, Cambodian officials have said they send protest notices after every incident, though rights workers have noted that no soldier has ever been punished after killing an illegal logger.
Just last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen said he had signed a circular to crack down on rosewood logging and trafficking – an announcement met with derision from experts, who said the effort, though laudable, came far too late.
Over-logging of rosewood within Cambodia’s borders in recent years has all but depleted the stocks − resulting in a spike in prices for the luxury wood abroad − forcing loggers farther and farther into Thailand’s territory.
Chea Slonh, district police chief of Banteay Meanchey’s Svay Chek, said loggers spent days at a time venturing deeper into Thai territory to log wood.
“They cross the border for two or three days and get about 10 kilometres deep into Thailand. If they’re able to return with rosewood, each can earn from $200 to $1,000.”
Vanna, of the border office, admitted that poverty likely played a role in encouraging villagers to take the risk of illegally logging.
“Because of their personal living conditions, our villagers are easily convinced by ringleaders into seeking rosewood,” he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Vong Sokheng at [email protected]
With assistance from Abby Seiff