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Woman in fatal foray across the border

Woman in fatal foray across the border

A Cambodian woman foraging for food across the border with Thailand was shot in the head and buried by Thai soldiers, but her rotting corpse was later dug up and returned to her family, area officials said.

Phorn Chem, 55, from O’Smach commune in Oddar Meanchey’s Samrong town, was killed on Tuesday last week after she and two of her daughters went into Thailand in search of food, said Phem Sam Arth, the commune chief. Her daughters were unharmed and returned home.

“Her family condition is absolutely poor, so she risked passing into Thailand for wild potatoes. She unwittingly walked about 1 kilometre past the white area [a zone that is not clearly demarcated] and she was shot dead by Thai soldiers,” Sam Arth said.

Chem and her husband have eight children between the ages of 7 and 27.

A senior police official in the area who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the two daughters only knew something had happened when they went home and didn’t see their mother. Along with relatives, they crept back to the site, and saw pieces of hair and brain but no body.

“She was shot in the head and died immediately; her body was buried after the shooting as well,” the police official said.

He described the “white zone” as a place where Cambodians used to frequently go to fish and forage, but that lately, Thai soldiers barred them from entering.

He added that the victim’s family members knew some of the border soldiers due to their proximity and their trips into the area. According to him, the Thais retrieved the body and negotiated its return.

“Thai soldiers unearthed the body for the victim’s family. The body started to rot and smell and stink. The body was brought home at 11pm on Friday,” the same official said.

Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to an email seeking confirmation that a shooting had occurred.

But Prom Bun Rith, chief of the statistics office in the Oddar Meanchey provincial police department, said he received a report about the death, citing it as the first fatal cross-border shooting in the province in several weeks.

“Since November there have been six cases of Thai soldier shootings, injuring five villagers and killing one. Most of the victims are timber hunters,” he said.

Srey Naren, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that, including the woman’s death, he recorded eight fatalities from cross-border shootings in Oddar Meanchey so far this year.

“We have eight in our record. This is just what we know,” Naren said.

Reports of fatal and nonfatal shootings from the Thai side of the border are frequent, though the countries, and groups within Cambodia, rarely agree on exact figures.

In September, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said no Cambodian loggers – who are often the ones injured or killed – were shot between January 1 and September 2. By contrast, Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior reported 12 people being killed in one day in March.

In late October, Cambodia blasted Thailand for a shooting that resulted in the death of a 21-year-old man who was thought to be stealing a motorbike.

Days later, Prime Minister Hun Sen asked Thai coup leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on his first visit to Cambodia if authorities could make arrests and take legal action on the border instead of shooting.

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