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Six O’Smach villagers await trial in Thailand

Six O’Smach villagers await trial in Thailand

SIX Cambodians from O’Smach commune in Oddar Meanchey province have been sent to a Thai prison and are awaiting trial after they were arrested Monday by Thai authorities while collecting rattan along the Thai-Cambodian border.

“They arrested six Cambodian people, pending a court hearing, because Thai forestry officials accused them of destroying trees,” said Pang Puth, coordinator of the O’Smach border gate. “I could not intervene to help bring them back to Cambodia because we have to wait for a response from Thai authorities.”

Srey Naren, Oddar Meanchey provincial coordinator for the local rights group Adhoc, said the villagers were collecting rattan in an unmarked area along the border at the time of their arrest, adding that they had travelled to the area many times before without incident.

“Thai soldiers have never arrested them there before, and we don’t know why they did this time,” he said, adding that Thai soldiers had been behaving “cruelly” towards Cambodian villagers in recent months. At least seven Cambodians have been shot and killed by Thai forces since September while logging in Thai territory, Oddar Meanchey officials say.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the government would help the villagers find a lawyer and assist them with legal advice. “We have told Cambodian people before not to cross the border illegally, but they never listen to us,” he said.

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