Thai police shot about half as many Cambodians in 2015 as they did in 2014, according to a new Ministry of Interior report.
Last year, 14 Cambodians were shot while encroaching into Thai territory, with five killed and nine injured, down from 25 shot, nine fatally, in 2014.
Both years’ figures were a drastic reduction from 2013, when 69 were killed, prompting Phnom Penh to send a letter to Bangkok “calling on Thai soldiers to stop shooting”.
Or Yong, deputy chief of border post 807 in Banteay Meanchey province, where many of those shot cross into Thailand, said Thai authorities never shot Cambodians for merely crossing the border illegally.
The victims were always suspected of greater criminality, he said.
“The most common cause of the shootings is logging,” said Yong.
“Cambodian people would not die without this offence. If they see Cambodian loggers, [Thai authorities] will open fire. If they cross the border and commit an offence like logging, they will never tolerate this.”
Those shot are mostly looking for rosewood to sell to Cambodian military officials for about $50 a plank. In China the precious wood garners prices as high as $25,000 per cubic metre.
“They kill us as if we are animals. Their law is very strict; we just cut down some trees and they kill us,” Yong continued. “We never hurt the Thai people.”
Am Sam Ath, a senior coordinator at rights group Licadho, called the Thai shootings an inexcusable violation of international human rights law.
“Thai police should not use a wild law to shoot Cambodians like this, as if there is no law to deal with the situation,” said Sam Ath.
“Whatever offence the Cambodians made, such as illegal logging or illegal migration, they should never shoot like that.”
A coordinator for rights group Adhoc in Banteay Meanchey province, Sum Chan Kea, said 2015’s figures were almost certainly too low. Many bodies sent back by Thailand were listed as accidental or natural deaths, but Cambodian authorities performed no independent testing, according to Chan Kea.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sarath Komsoth said the government did its best to have Cambodians who were shot or arrested while logging repatriated, and had pleaded with Bangkok not to kill Cambodians over lumber.
“We met with their government and said if Cambodians commit crimes, use the law, don’t open fire,” said Komsoth. “We hope next year there will be no such cases.”