Cambodian parents describe efforts to cope with their 16-year-old son’s death.
His foot is still at the scene of the attack because i am afraid [to go back]....”
Oddar Meanchey Province
THE Thai embassy in Phnom Penh has rejected a report finding that a Cambodian teenager from Oddar Meanchey province was shot and burned alive by Thai soldiers last month, condemning it as provocative and not rooted in evidence.
“I oppose this accusation that Thai soldiers burned the Cambodian teenager alive and killed him,” Thai embassy First Secretary Kamrob Palawatwichai said in the embassy’s first public response to the charges. “It is not true at all, and the Thais are not happy with this report. It makes us look fierce.”
He added that the embassy would launch its own investigation into the incident, which has triggered outrage and condemnation from senior government officials this side of the border.
Meanwhile, the parents of 16-year-old Yon Rith stood by their original version of events when reached by phone Sunday, adding that they had not yet heard from local officials about how the dispute would be resolved and whether they would receive compensation.
In an interview last week at the family’s home in Kroch Sakhorn village, located in Samrong district’s Kon Kreal commune, Saing Yon, the boy’s father, said he was afraid to return to the illegal logging site, adding that he did not know how he would support his family without money earned from selling wood.
Nin Khuom, Yon Rith’s 52-year-old mother, said that despite her husband’s fears, she wanted to bring food to the spirit of her dead son and to retrieve his ashes. During a visit to the site shortly after the September 11 killing, she said, the family retrieved only the top half of his body, which was not burned, and held a funeral ceremony for him near their home.
“I took only half of my son’s body then to celebrate the ceremony for him,” she said. “His foot is still at the scene of the attack because I am afraid that the Thai soldiers will come and arrest us if we go back.”
Kang Mao, a 39-year-old neighbour who was with the illegal logging group when it was attacked, said Yon Rith had just sat down to lunch when the shooting began.
The Thai government has said that his body was burned only after he died of gunshot wounds, but Kang Mao said he believed the boy was burned alive.
Saing Yon said the ill-fated excursion, in which another teenager was also shot and seriously injured, had been his son’s first across the Thai border.
“He was too young. He didn’t know any better,” he said.
Though he acknowledged that the villagers had been logging illegally, he said they were not able to make as much money cutting down Cambodian trees.
“The reason that people cross to that area is because there is the best-quality wood there,” he said.
He and Kang Mao both said the soldiers should have merely arrested Yong Rith and sent him back to Cambodia.
“Please don’t shoot loggers and burn them alive when you catch them in Thailand,” Kong Mao said. If you cut down a tree, you can just plant a new one. But a logger is not a plant. When you shoot a logger, he is just dead.”