Thai government figures obtained by the Post this week state that no Cambodian nationals have been harmed this year while illegally felling luxury timber across the border, contesting numerous accounts of both shootings and fatalities from Cambodian officials and loggers.
Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the Post that, according to information from the Border Defence Command, between January 1 and September 2 “there have been no reports of clashes or losses of life” of loggers on either side of the border.
“Thailand has no policy to use any forms of violence against illegal loggers and we stand firm on respecting human rights and relevant international laws,” Dana Darongsuwan, third secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of Information, said in an email this week.
Darongsuwan added that 149 Cambodian illegal loggers were arrested within the nine-month period.
“Most Cambodian illegal loggers who have hitherto been arrested and prosecuted in accordance with the Thai judicial system have been found to commit minor offences and received minor punishments according to the law, such as fines or suspension of sentences. They are subsequently released to go back to Cambodia,” she said.
But Srey Naren, a coordinator for local rights group Adhoc in Oddar Meanchey province – a common entry point for Cambodians seeking lucrative wood across the border – said Thailand was merely trying to escape accountability.
“The Thai government just doesn’t want to be responsible for what it has done to Cambodian people,” he said. “We have the family members of the victims – it is proof.”
According to the Ministry of Interior, 69 Cambodians were shot dead while illegally crossing the Thai border last year.
Cambodian officials said in March that Thai soldiers had shot dead 12 Cambodian loggers in a single day.
While Bangkok denied the shootings, in the same month, a district governor in Preah Vihear province told the Post that the Thai military had admitted to killing three people accused of illegal logging and burning their corpses.
Members of a logging cartel in Oddar Meanchey province told the Post in May of regular shootings; one logger showed evidence of a bullet still embedded in his thigh.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Cambodia had urged Thailand to “arrest, not shoot”.
But 19-year-old Mom Phearum told the Post yesterday that just last week, black-uniformed Thai paramilitary forces opened fire as he attempted to carry illegally logged rosewood into Cambodia.
Phearum said he was travelling in a group of 20 loggers back to his home in Battambang’s Samlot district when the soldiers opened fire and subsequently arrested three members of the group, including his two brothers.
The Thai soldiers “saw us and started to shoot at us from the mountain. My brothers told me to drop the wood and escape, but they kept carrying the wood.… Both of them and another villager were arrested,” he said.
Lieutenant General Prak Phan, director of border communication at checkpoint 400, said that Thailand had denied shooting or arresting any loggers.
“We are still suspicious,” he said, adding that he would press Thailand for more answers on the incident and the whereabouts of the three missing men.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MAY TITTHARA