Police and military officials were searching for six missing Cambodians yesterday who villagers believe were shot dead by Thai soldiers on Saturday night after entering the Khun Han district of Thailand’s Si Saket province in search of luxury timber.
Neth Hing, who lives in Oddar Meanchey’s Trapaing Prasath district, told the Post that 13 people showed up at her doorstep yesterday morning, telling her they were survivors of a group of 19 Cambodians who had entered Thailand via the Thmor Pres border crossing.
“They came to [my home] this morning about 11:00. They fled because of shooting; they said that six people died,” Neth Hing said. “They said this [while] they were sitting [at my house].”
Speaking with the Post yesterday evening, Keo San, police chief of Trapaing Prasat district, confirmed that the shooting had occurred but could not confirm if the six in question had been killed.
“We are in the jungle now looking for the people,” he said by telephone, adding that he could not yet say whether the missing people are “dead or injured or lost somewhere”.
One military official based on the border near Trapaing Prasat district who asked to remain anonymous also confirmed the shooting, saying that not only had the villagers entered to illegally log, but that they had been led there by a military official.
Every day, 100 Cambodian villagers enter the forest with military police acting as their guides, he said, daring to do so because of the promise of protection from the military police – as well as the promise of a big pay-off for the illegal timber.
“It is difficult to control [the loggers] because they cross the border with military officials,” he said, adding that Thai soldiers open fire on groups heading into the forest to log “nearly every day”. “I know that dozens of military officials have been sent out to look for the people in the forest,” he said. “I don’t have detailed information about them now, because high-ranking military officials [are withholding] the information.”
Military commander of division 3, Lieutenant General Srey Doek, who commands troops along the border near Preah Vihear temple, strongly denied that his military officials have any involvement with illegal logging, saying that while people illegally cross into Thailand, it does not occur in areas where his military police patrol.
“We are here for strengthening national security, and our soldiers have no involvement with logging activities,” he said.
Officials at the Cambodian-Thai Border Relations office said yesterday that while the Thai troops had fired shots, no one had died as the shots were simply a signal designed to recall troops.
“Thai soldiers shot to collect their soldiers. [They] did not shoot our Khmer people,” Dy Phen, chief of Cambodian-Thai Border Relations office said yesterday. However, he added that despite investigating and not finding evidence that Cambodians were killed by Thai soldiers, his forces were continuing to seek information from their Thai counterparts.
“So now we wait to see what the Thai side says,” Dy Phen said.
But people living in Trapaing Prasath district who declined to be named said officials of Cambodian-Thai border relations were refusing to confirm the shootings because some of them had financial interests in allowing people to enter Thailand.
Touch Ra, deputy chief of Cambodian-Thai border relations affairs, rejected the allegation, saying his officials had never allowed people to enter Thailand, but had always helped those shot.
“I have never received any [financial] interest. On the contrary, I helped [the injured loggers], giving them food,” he said.
In February, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned military officials against taking part in the illegal timber trade.